Tag Archives: writer

What I know now, that I wish I knew then …

The advice kettle is sage and wise and also keeps the water hot, like an urn, only not.

Back on topic this week, I was asked for some advice by a writer who is just starting work on her first book. Even though she appears to be of sound mind, she was dead chuffed with what I wrote and asked if I’d share it on my blog so she could send people to the post. As a result, by special request, here is my rambling view on er … some of the aspects of writing that popped up.

BEFORE YOU START ….

1. What do you want to do?
a) have fun writing a book.
b) have fun writing a book and maybe make a bit of side cash – or at least get the cover artwork and editing costs back.
c) Rule the world: Yeh, move over JK, I am on your tail.

2. Decide on a target genre, who your reader is and what genre/store category your book fits into. Are there other books for the kind of reader you are aiming at. What are they like? What do their covers look like? Hint, you do NOT want your cover to stand out, you want it to be slick, well designed and exactly the same as all the others so readers know what they are getting (I so didn’t do this). Are you going to mash genres? Say you’re writing Sci-fi, is it something else too? Is it funny? Is it also fantasy. Are there other books like yours? Who writes them?

Your answer to question 1 will affect this as if you’re looking to make a living you need to totally conform to the standard tropes. Unless you are going to be an outlier. I thought I was going to be an outlier. It didn’t work too well for me. I write because … actually, I write because I can’t walk away from it and to be honest, walking away would be the sensible option right now.

Pantser or Plotter?

I was firmly in the pantser camp to start with – as in I’d just write and see where it went. It went to lots of good places but my first book took 13 years. Pantsing may well slow your rate of production so if a fast output is your aim plotting is good. Likewise, if your daily existence is the equivalent of having someone opening the top of your head and stir your brains about, constantly, with a wooden spoon, some kind of plot outline is going to be a huge help. Especially if you have menopausal brain fog on top (yes apparently that really is a thing and yes, of course I have it).

I find that even though I now write an outline, there is plenty of wiggle room. The key thing is to experiment and find what works best for you. I find that if I get too confined by an outline I stop enjoying it as much, I quite like the whole wondering around and seeing where it will go aspect, but when I relied solely on that I got frustrated with having to keep stopping while my brain sorted itself out. I really enjoyed the learning process – even though it was trying at times.

However, these days I am very light on time so if I want to produce a book every five years, I do need to plot a little bit so I don’t waste time. On the last two books of the K’Barthan Series I wrote 60k words I didn’t need. Right now my year’s output stands at about 40k so I can’t afford to waste a year and a half’s writing time on plot bunnies. Hence I now plot, but with enough wriggle room for the characters to act on their own initiative. This works for me – and that’s the important take away from this one: that what works for me may not work for you.

Write in whatever way suits you best.

Try to avoid being too rigid in your approach

My brain and my life.

To put this in perspective, basically, I pantsed my first novel and I wrote three versions that I sincerely wish I hadn’t written and one half cock novel (which I managed to tidy up and turn into something decent: my fifth published novel) before I managed to produce a book that measured up to my Quality Standards.

In that time, the male lead had appeared out of nowhere, one character had changed from a mechanic to a ganglord, the first book had ended up being the third and fourth ones and the other two were the backstory that popped up out of nowhere at the same time as my getaway-driving male lead. By the time I’d got to the last book, the plot was so complicated my brain was just about melting out through my nose – oh no wait that was hayfever.

What I mean is, you don’t have to stick too rigidly to the plan but you may have to shake things up originally and see what falls out to know if your book is going to work, or if it’s two books, or a series of short stories, or if the character who has just turned up in prison really is the male lead. Sometimes you get too many characters. Eric, from Escape From B-Movie Hell was actually in the K’Barthan Series to start with. Obviously he was human in that, but he was also telepathic. I just made him into an alien for his new world, his character didn’t changed much.

Likewise, at the second short in a series of five, I discovered that what I was writing was a novel. We’re 60k in and yes, I’ve already binned 40k. I’m not learning from my mistakes am I? But at the same time, the short was not a short so there was no point in forcing the issue. Now it’s a long. So what? It will be what it will be. Just try different approaches and you will find a number of different things that work.

Grammar and Punctuation

Bollocks to it. It’s the editor’s job. As you write you learn more, as you work with a decent editor you will learn loads. The point is, you will need an editor unless you are a very and I mean very rare breed. Most of us are too close in to self edit. Additionally, the only thing I really know about grammar and punctuation for sure, is that there are no right answers.

It doesn’t matter what you do, someone, somewhere will always complain so a lot of it is about having faith in your editor. I do edit my work but that’s more word choices, and tweaking stuff so it makes sense; structural things. It also helps me to do this if I need a bit of re-orientation with my giant sprawling novel. Also I have regular read throughs of what I’ve done so far so I can zoom out to the overall big picture. Otherwise I can get kind of lost. Am I a grammar nazi? No, that’s the job of my editor.

Also there will be points where you really dislike your book or think, ‘blimey this is a bit meh.’ That’s all natural. Everyone does it. Sometimes, a good way of getting round that is to work on several projects at the same time. I do that because my life is hectic and I can’t afford to not write something when the stars align and the grey matter is fired up because it happens so rarely. But working on multiple projects also helps you to ensure you’re always working on something you’re up for and enjoy.

Learning Your Craft

I never bought any how to write books – actually, I tell a lie, I have a Chuck Wendig Book on writing which is epic.

However, mostly I’ve learned to write by reading a lot of work by authors who write the way I want to; Pratchett, Adams, Woodehouse and Bryson, notably, along with Tom Holt, Robert Rankin, Nick Hornby, Spike Milligan and Tom Sharp but also non comic writers like H E Bates, Graham Greene, Neville Shute and Asimov. There’s the odd dash of historical fiction, Moonfleet when I was a kid, the Children of the New Forest and The Three Musketeers, Jane Austen. In addition my work has gained a lot of influences from TV; Dr Who – check my non violent hero who never thumps anyone – the original StarTrek, StarWars are the three big ones but also a lot of the 1960s TV shows like Get Smart, the Man from UNCLE, the Avengers, Thunderbirds etc.

This is where I confess that I am the only living person in existence who is not going to bang on about To Kill a Mockingbird or Moby Dick in this section. I have never read a word of either.

The point is, I’m guessing there is a similar list of relevant books to mine for each genre.  A list of must reads which any author would look to for inspiration if they wanted to write in it. If you don’t have one, make one.

The most important thing is patience. Nailing the whole write a book thing usually takes a long time. You are probably a faster learner than me, most people are, but it took me ages to write a book that measured up to my QS. On the upside, when I did, I knew at once that I’d cracked it.

Setting Deadlines

I don’t do this. It would kill me because if they were realistic I’d be in tears about how long each project was going to take and if they are unrealistic I’ll be beating myself up over failing to meet deadlines. I just set a long term goal and short term, realistic, targets and then creep slowly along. One of my friends got stuck a while back when we were at the same stages in our first book. I was stuck, too, but by telling myself it was temporary, or writing other scenes from other parts of the book, or, indeed other books entirely, I managed to keep on creeping slowly forward, I now have 5 books out, she’s just completing her third novel. Other writer friends have twice as many books out as me after two years in the game. So much of writing is a case of having a firm word with yourself and just getting on with it in whatever way you can. You may find deadlines work for you. I find they don’t but a handful of defined and doable goals, with no done by time, they do help. Like all this, you probably need to experiment to get your own happy medium.

In a nutshell, then, bollocks to deadlines; set targets.

Building an Audience

It’s well worth doing this as you go along rather than waiting until you’re ready to launch your first book. If you can manage a free short story you can give to folks in return for mailing list sign up that will help you to start growing a following. Open an account at instafreebie and bookfunnel to deliver the free book to folks. Join promos with other authors. Find websites and Facebook groups where you can chat to other writers in your genre and exchange marketing tips and ideas. For mailing, it’s up to you but I use Mailerlite – they’re cheap and do all the things I need them to do as an author.

This might sound a bit premature but if you can start getting people invested in you even if it’s only to share your journey, you are more likely to start off with some decent book sales.

Big caveat on your give away short though, it has to be your best stuff because it’s your shop window.

Working Out Who Your Audience Is

This is going to affect what you do considerably. For example it is really, and I mean really hard to reach young people or children online. I’d call my book Young Adult. When I wrote it, as well as me, I was thinking of my nephew, who was 12 years old at the time. When I do events, my books sell exclusively to 10-14 year olds, with the odd adult Pratchett fan thrown in. The buyers are usually parents who want to encourage their children to read books. Online, no matter how well your ads or your site piques their interest, kids will not be able to buy your books without their parents’ say so and you run into a whole heap of legal headaches if minors start signing up to your email list. The folks who buy my books online are 45 and over, more women between 45 and 50, more men over 50.

So, if you are going to sell your books, think long and hard about who you are selling to. You may need to concentrate on libraries or making a print version – Ingram Spark are good for this if you are looking for world wide sales and will get your book distributed far more widely then Createspace or Amazon Print and for far less per copy than LuLu.

Here are resources which might help focus your thoughts on production and marketing, anyway …

The first is a series of books about how to format paperbacks using word and publishing indie books. They are by this guy here:

Aaron Shepard

Mr Shepard’s books, From Word to Kindle and POD for Profit might be useful. The amount of information he is dealing with has increased so where I bought one book: Aiming at Amazon, which dealt with the process of making print books. I would have never got my paperback stuff sorted without them. If you are looking at children’s books it might be worth looking at Adventures in Writing for Children and The Business of Writing for Children and the ones he has written about making a useable kindle file using word!

The three other essential ones that will give you an idea of how you can go about building an audience, indie musician style, and sell your books are a three book set by Patty Jansen. I heartily recommend these as they also propose a way of working that is not reliant on any one bookseller and with a work rate that is realistically attainable. They are:

  • Self Publishing Unboxed
  • Mailing Lists Unboxed
  • Going Wide Unboxed

Links to buy them from all retailers can be found here – scroll down to the bottom of the page.
Or you can buy them, direct, from Patty’s Website here

I realise I’ve probably given you way more information than you might want and about stuff way further down the line than the point at which you are now. It might look daunting but the thing is, if you enjoy writing and work at it, you will get there, and when you do it won’t feel nearly as daunting, putting your work out there. It is like putting your soul on the table and inviting snide comments but somehow it works out OK and the more you do it the more your confidence builds and the more you begin to believe in your work. Not everyone will like your stuff but that’s OK. I have one star reviews and that’s fine, and if it isn’t fine, avoid reading the reviews! 😉

Finally, the most important things

IMPORTANT THING ONE: enjoy it. Enjoy writing and the love for it will shine through in what you say. If you write with conviction and enthusiasm, pretty much any plot will work, I mean, look at my stuff! The rest is gravy.

IMPORTANT THING TWO: never, EVER look at other people’s progress and compare it to yours. They are not you. Their life, their personality, and probably their books are different. Keep your eye on your own writing goals, make them realistic goals and work steadily towards them. Enjoy the process of learning and enjoy writing.

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Real Life is underrated. Using mundane events to fuel your writing mojo.

I’m not here this week, I am going to post to my blog and give a talk at the same time.  Sadly this is through the wonders of modern technology and not because I have a clone but there we go, you can’t win ’em all. So without more ado, here’s a piece outlining my theories about pimping your world to add realism to your writing. At the risk of sounding a bit waffly …

_______________________________________________

Pimp your world!

Real life can feel like an unwelcome and endlessly demanding interruption to your writing happiness.

However, it doesn’t have to be like this. The mundanity of your reality depends on how you see it. Even if you write science fiction or something that is very much not real life, observing what is going on around you can bring you huge dividends if you can put the right spin on it for yourself.

This is an owl; in flight, even though it looks like some kind of ball. Yes. Real life can often be quite weird enough – without the help of a writer.

How does this work?

Embrace the mundanity, be interested in everything, because it’s the sense of natural curiosity that will give you answers to the odd but boring questions of life. And knowing those boring answers will give your writing texture and make it real. Sure, nobody wants to know what that broken bent thing at the back of the drawer is but as a writer, you do because you never know when you’re going to discover a use for it in your books.

Exercise your writing muscles when you’re not writing.

No I don’t mean your hands! I mean this; if you have to do some mundane chore when you’d rather be writing why no approach it a different way? For example, if you have to go shopping, maybe try to see the dreary trek to Tesco’s as if you are making it for the first time, narrate your progress in your head, as if you’re writing a book.

You can make your approach to this exercise range from lateral to literal, for example, your first thought might be, ‘Why am I pretending it’s the first time I’ve ever been to Tesco if I’ve lived here all my life?’

From there you could go on to ask why the character in your head is only visiting now if they’ve lived here forever. Why, how and where have they been shopping in the years leading up to today? What does the sudden need to visit Tesco’s signify? What changed that put them there?

Alternatively, you can take a different approach and narrate your progress without really thinking of the whys and wherefores but simply as if it’s a scene in a novel. Think about whether the ‘you’ in your narrative is sad, happy, bored or something else. If they are, why might be the cause? How could you show it?

For example, if they see a thistle growing between the cracks in the pavement would their mood effect it. EG flowers, spring, lovely. Flowers, funerals death horror. Thistle, prickly and difficult.

Would they notice different aspects of their surroundings in different moods and interpret them differently?If you have access to MP3s on the hoof you could pop on a pair of headphones and see if different types of music inspire different scenarios. Would up beat songs make your character skip happily over the tarmac? Do sad songs make them drag their feet etc.

The point is, if you are thinking this way, it can only help you to develop your writing voice and style at times in the day when you aren’t able to do any writing.

Engaging with your surroundings brings rewards.

Yep, as much as you can, even when it seems as if there isn’t any point. First; you never know what you might see second, if you want to get interesting stuff out of your head, you have to put things in; experiences, ideas, knowledge and you have to be open to them when they occur – which is often when you least expect it.

Terry Pratchett talking about books said:

You don’t know what’s going to be interesting until you’ve read it. Somewhere in a book on the history of false teeth there’ll be the making of a novel.

He’s spot on.

Seek out the small details going on around you.

The other day, as my son and I were driving along, a middle aged woman passed us on her mountain bike coming the other way doing a huge wheelie. She, and we, were going under the A14, in different directions, her on the cycle path, us on the road. As she landed, having wheelied all the way under the bridge she pumped one fist in the air. My son and I didn’t have time to hoot, wave or give her the thumbs up before she was gone but that experience had both of us thinking. We spent the rest of the journey making up a story about her. We are probably the only people that noticed what she did.

Another time, waiting in queue to go to work at Milton way back in the late 1990s I looked up into the blue spring sky. As I sat stationary in the traffic I watched someone in an aeroplane with one of those smoke canisters in it flying round above. They drew a smiley face. Did anyone else see? I don’t know. Weirdly, a couple of years ago, someone did the same thing over the skies of Bury St Edmunds. On both occasions, it left me feeling up beat. I haven’t put either event in a book yet, but I probably will.

Be interested in your surroundings.

Why? Because the insignificant details of what is going on around you are where you will discover the things that will give your work texture and realism. Look at the world around you, be curious, ask questions. Pepper your stuff with answers you discover and it will feel so much more real to your readers, no matter how outlandish it is.

The wall of the Baptist church, in my town, has what looks like bullet holes in it. I’ve always wondered what happened to that wall. I’ve seen bullet holes in things on the continent, where battles took place in the second world war, usually. My son was intrigued, too, and decided to try and find out. It turns out that those are, indeed, bullet holes. The church was used for communications of some kind during the war and a German fighter plane came over and shot it up. Another one flew over one of the main streets, shooting up a pub called the New Inn and the house next door, which just happens to be ours. So it turns out my house has bullet holes in it. Something like this would be a great story to fictionalise or, if you write non-fiction, a collection of stories like this about your local community can make for really intriguing reading.

Similarly, my son has made a point of learning the names of all the local cats, so now as we walk down the street, we greet them by name. This is probably quite weird but if you have a character in a book doing this it can tell you so much about them; that they’re soft hearted that they like cats? Or maybe, that they don’t like cats but they’re too soft hearted not to greet them anyway. Or, possibly, they’re scared of cats and greet them out of superstition, the way some folk salute magpies. One tiny detail, lots of potential.

Be interested in people.

Find out who they are, what they have done.

There was an old man who lived down the same road as my parents who my parents were on nodding terms with. As he became older, he began to suffer badly with arthritis and couldn’t get out much, so Dad started popping in to visit. It turned out that this fellow that my parents had known for years was in the 1936 British Olympic running team. He was injured just as he arrived in Berlin and the Germans gave him one of the best seats in the house to watch the rest of the games. He saw Jesse Owens win and since he was sitting few yards away from the ‘royal’ box he also saw Adolf Hitler having a massive melt down and completely throwing his bricks out of the pram when it happened. But he always swore that Hitler did shake Owen’s hand … when he had calmed down.

Often, each person is the sum of some amazing stories. People love to talk and if you listen, you will hear incredible things, things that also shed light on human nature.

For example, my mum grew up in the country and recalls how she and her brother saw a plane fly across the garden during the war. Some people had been shot at on the Downs while blackberrying the week before but Mum and my uncle were on their own and were delighted to be able to wave at the plane without being told off by an adult. They were even more delighted when the pilot who was blonde and curly-haired waved back! It was only after the plane had gone that they realised it had a cross on the side of it, not the circles of the RAF. Meanwhile Mum’s friend Norah used to talk of the time a ME109 was brought down on the Downs near Steyning in Sussex. Everyone was arming themselves with pitchforks, kitchen knives, pickaxe handles etc and went off to capture the pilot. The gentleman in question unwittingly evaded capture and was discovered wandering local lanes by someone taking an afternoon constitutional, someone who was unaware that a dangerous armed enemy was on the loose. The pilot asked, politely, for directions to the local police station so he could hand himself in.

All your characters need a back story that is as real to you as life, even if it is never mentioned in the actual book you write about them. Collecting stories like these from people you meet can give you some fantastic, readymade back stories, or at least a place to start.

Use the mundane.

Also using mundane events in writing can tether your writing to the real world, giving the most outlandish scenes realism or throwing scary stuff into stark relief.

So for example, say you have a character who is held captive by a scary bad guy. Her guards take her to the bathroom. It has one of those fans that comes on automatically when you turn the light on and then chugs away for several minutes after you’ve turned it off again. When she is finished the guards turn the light off and take her back to her cell, but she can hear the fan droning on for several minutes. A lot of us can identify with listening to that kind of fan. So when our heroine hears it in book we can immediately get alongside her. It grounds the narrative in reality making a situation that may be difficult to imagine more realistic, while, at the same time, highlighting the unusual or menacing nature of parts that are different.

To sum up then, there is gold all around if you if you look.

I think it was also Terry Pratchett who said something along the lines that if you want to write convincing fantasy you will need a better handle on how reality works than anyone else. It’s a strange dichotomy that fictional or hard-to-imagine events seem to spring to life if you can fix them to reality every day real things.

It’s worth taking notice, observing the everyday and riffing with your surroundings in your head as you go about normal life. Because if you practise your writing by adding a little fiction to your normal life it will help you to develop your writing style and voice, and train your brain to view the world differently. Likewise if you look for little snippets of reality to use in your writing you can add immense power and depth to your words.

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(Brandy)Butter balls; a bit of Christmas wittering.

It occurred to me that I should be doing a Christmas round up soon or at least a what’s on next year. However, I have spectacularly failed to get my shit together in time for it this week – ooooo there’s a surprise – so instead I’m going to give you a recipe … eventually.

As you know, I am the original Grinch, only slightly more bad tempered; think of me as the Voldemort of Christmas cheer – or possibly the Lord Vernon.

BUT there are bits of the whole sorry mess that even I enjoy. I do a number of Christmas parties including two corporate wife events which are a gas. Last night was at a Cambridge college which is, basically, supper at Hogwarts so what’s not to like?

Dinner at Hogwarts. A typical Cambridge dining hall (last year’s) … very like my school’s dining hall but without the mashed potato on the ceiling, although I think they’ve taken that off the ceiling at my school now, too. Young people are much better behaved these days.

However,  unlike Hogwarts these places are properly cold. I went resplendent in a thick velvet jacket and trousers, a big warm shawl and thermal underwear. The meal was pretty good, especially the turkey and trimmings and, bonus, the waiter dropped a sausage on the table between me and the lady opposite and then served her another one ‘for hygiene reasons’ which meant me and the lady were able to cut it in half and enjoy a soupcon extra. Snortle.

On the way home we did the interesting road closed manoeuvre again – and we’ll be doing it tonight, too – but we went the right way this time so no single track roads, just country lanes.

This morning, through the hangover fug, it did occur to me that at all these events there is one aspect that lets them down; the brandy butter, or at least lack thereof.

Have you noticed how restaurants tend to serve brandy cream with the Christmas pud? Last week’s was good but many’s the time when it’s had an unfortunate tendency to taste like a mixture of methylated spirits and petroleum jelly – usually at school where they were afraid to serve brandy to the under-aged and were using ‘brandy flavour’ instead. Another favourite is a kind of custard. That sounds good on paper, but because it lacks the usual yellow dye it is white and a bit viscous and I’m afraid it comes up looking very like sperm. This is slightly unnerving when someone’s slathered it all over your food. You wonder what they’ve been doing out there in the kitchen. That said, it always tastes a lot better and since custard is always nice, no matter how jizz-like the colour, I’m game for as much as they’ll give me, which is never enough and … well … it’s not brandy butter is it?

When I was a kid growing up, my mum regularly made several hundred mince pies each year for church, the house (when we lived in the school) and any number of other events. She also made the pud, the cake, the stuffing for the turkey, grew the sprouts and the spuds and everything else from scratch. But then Mum is a kind of cordon-bleu-hunter-gatherer-Beth-Chatto*. The pud would be served in flames and the mince pies would be heated in the oven, all were served with brandy butter, and because it was so good, nobody was allowed it unless they had some pud or mince pies – or ‘little bleeders’ as we call them because when asked if he liked them at his first Christmas with us, McOther voiced all our thoughts by saying,

‘No, I hate the little bleeders.’

But I digress. Back to the brandy butter. OMG, as I believe young people say, that brandy butter was a slice of heaven. We’d have one mince pie and a dessert spoonful of brandy butter to go with, ie a lump of comparable size to the pie. Then you held the butter back when you ate the mince pie and would go in for seconds of pudding but this time, you’d done your duty and had some Christmas fayre so you were allowed to choose something you liked: a meringue. That there people is combo made in heaven – even if, most likely, it’s one that will swiftly see you in heaven, in a more literal sense, by blocking your arteries and giving you a heart attack.

These days, when I talk about brandy butter, hardly anyone seems to know what it is. That’s a crying shame and is a situation I wish to redress. However, Mum’s recipe for brandy butter is a bit generalist it goes like this:

‘Well darling, what I do is take some unsalted butter and some icing sugar, beat them in the mixer and add brandy to taste.’

You can try that if you like, it’s pretty much what I do, but I have managed to convert this, sort of, to a normal weights and measures type of thing.  I’ve stuck to weights and measures because everyone can weigh things out, but ‘cup’ size varies all over the world and doesn’t exist in the UK, so if I do cups no-one will have a fucking clue how much to put in. Mwahahahargh; not least of all, me!

I don’t have a picture of brandy butter so here’s a little fellow about to give you a warm hug. Yes, last night’s college was a target rich environment.

* famous gardener

Brandy Butter

75g/3oz butter left out first so it’s reasonably soft.
175g/6oz icing sugar
1 table spoon of Brandy – to start with, anyway but keep the bottle handy.
1 teaspoon of freshly squeezed orange juice – preferably from an actual orange.
A smattering of orange zest from the same orange.

The trick with this one is you have to taste it. A lot. Here’s the method.

1. Put the butter in a mixing bowl and sieve the icing sugar over the top.
2. Beat it – either by hand or with a mixer is fine. I use a Kenwood Chef mixer which I bought at a jumble sale (rummage sale) about 25 years ago for £5 and I use the beater attachment rather than the whisk.
3. Eventually it will go quite smooth, like butter icing (butter frosting?). This is where you add your brandy – slowly so it doesn’t curdle.
4. Have a taste. Add more brandy if you need to but remember putting liquids in this is tricky so keep it to small amounts at a time. Add some orange zest.
5. Have another taste. Add the orange juice and a bit more orange zest if you want to. I like it with orange because it makes it a bit less sweet but avoid over doing it. You just want a background hint, it’s not orange butter, after all. That said, Mum’s never tasted over sweet and she didn’t use orange but I suspect it had absolutely gargantuan amounts of brandy in it.
6. Once you’ve got it how you like it, put it in a dish and keep it in the fridge. If you put enough brandy in, I’m telling you, this stuff will keep for a sod of a long time. Like a year at least.

The basic gist is two parts sugar to one butter so it’s reasonably easy to scale up, or down, but the more you make, the easier it is to mix.

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Meh and un-meh. Thoughts, ramblings and a progress report.

It’s confession time. I’ve been in a bit of a slump recently because we’ve reached a new stage in Dad’s illness and I’m still adjusting to the grimness. If someone you love has dementia then there will be stuff they say when you know it’s the illness speaking, rather than them. Over the last three of four months, Dad’s condition has deteriorated rapidly to the point where his illness is doing far more of the talking than he is. It’s been pretty stark.

On the upside, there have been a lot of big events in the family and among friends to keep me busy, although some of them are going through tough times too. But there’s been less down time and no more than a few hours in any of the last five weeks to plan, gather thoughts and generally sort myself out. If I’m a bit maudlin, this is usually good. The more I socialise and the more stuff I do, the less time I spend in the Slough of Despond. Also we all know the writer who wants to get stuff out of their head has to put stuff in. I even have a book cued up to read for the holidays. I think it’s called put your pants on, or possibly pull your pants off but it’s about finding ways to plan your writing more effectively. I’ll review it when I’m done!

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, hectic life. When things get too busy the time for everything else but the household chores disappears and trust me in this house, even they are a bit, er hem, rushed. Or neglected. Phnark. And my house is hardly a smoothly oiled machine at the best of times. I mean, it has McMini and me in it. But if there’s not even time for chores or the myriad stuff I have to remember for McMini’s school (sad stuff there too) I do tend to get a bit flustered. And guilty. And sad. And on top of already sad, that’s not good.

And what with the state of the world right now, and the shit we’re all in, I slightly feel that if I can’t say anything positive it’s best not to say anything at all. Hence the significant lack of posts on here and the shockingly low quality of my email newsletters. Sorry anyone reading who also receives my emails. The interesting stories will return. Soon.

Because I’ve realised something.

It’s time to have a word with myself!

So, first of all, I apologise if my posts and emails seem faux jolly, as if I’m going through the motions (when they appear at all). In a sense, they are and I am. But it’s important that I continue writing them. A huge part of the trick of managing life-grimness, for me, is to keep on keeping on. The small every day things become harder and harder to do, but doing them anchors you in reality, in normality, and stops you from floating away into some kind of mad disjointed netherworld of despair. That’s why I write, of course. Because – don’t laugh – writing all this stuff that is madder than a box of frogs keeps the rest of me sane and grounded.

Keep calm and carry on. That’s my life and I’m this bloke.

Right, that’s that off my chest, let us move swiftly on to other things.

News

Mmm. The 10k short is with the editor, although she has RSI and due to the vagaries of the power companies where she lives she is currently in the process of going off grid – ie switching to solar – so I’m not sure when it will come back. Which reminds me, I must look and see if there was anything I was meant to be doing to it.

Meanwhile, McMini’s birthday party is finally in the bag so I must do an invite. It’d be much easier to draw one but the lamp in my scanner has gone so I suspect I will be doing something with clip art. Oh dear. He and 9 other little darlings are going to do den building and fire building in a local park. Luckily I have help in the form of my friend Jill so if it all goes tits up at least we can laugh about it later.

With this and the rest of the holidays fast approaching my writing may well slow but I’m going to try and do the 20 minutes a day thing because that worked really well.  Whatever happens, I will be doing some reading. Both the aforementioned keep your pants on book and one of my own for editing/developmental purposes. I’m 40k into a 60k novel. It’s not my greatest work because I’m experimenting with keeping both my plots and my books simpler and shorter so I can sell them cheaper. However, it’s not bad and I think it could well be better by the time I’m done with it.

If the pants book helps I hope to be doing a bit of outlining over the holidays. There have also been more developments with the one about the ex gigolo space dustman who lives on P deck. I’ve been working out how he gets there – I think that will be a long short that I can give away to folks who join my mailing list (or who are already on the other one). Also working on how he gets his ship – I think he builds it from scrap but I’m not sure. It may be a lease ship. And how Admiral Ash, the female lead, ends up being de-thawed from her stasis pod. Thinking she might be in his ship with him now, rather than in space. Depends if he builds it from spare parts. I also need to draw a cover for Jump because I can’t afford a proper one. I should be able to use the scanner in my parents’ printer for that one but the invite is more time critical. It has to go into school tomorrow because it’s the last week.

On the eyebombing book front. I am slowly getting there with working out kickstarter layers. It’s really hard to do because I have no cash so it has to be benefits in kind, like taking them for an eyebombing walk, so I’m scratching my head about international sponsors at the moment. All I can give them is books and their name in the front. I have to get about £15 for each book to be able to afford to have it printed and send it to them. Thinking this might have to be more of a local endeavour. We shall see. Might have to look at a different size too. I was going to do stocking filler 6″x6″.

Also, if anyone’s thinking of forking out for Escape From B-Movie Hell hold off, I’ll have some good news for you on that front next week!

That’s all for now, pipple toot!

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You may choose bath time, or DEATH.

As  you may all know, Escape From B-Movie Hell, my latest book, is about to hit the streets. I am still frantically primping mailshots and generally phaffing about so obviously the ideal thing to happen today would be for something to go so unbelievably, mind bendingly, heroically wrong that the wheels would fall off and I’d achieve absolutely nothing.

But that wouldn’t happen would it? Not unless my life ran like a badly written sitcom with a totally unrealistic plot.

Yeh. You’d better believe it. Of course it did.

This has been the most amazingly bizarre day.

McOther got the 7am train to London. McCat appeared shortly afterwards hopped onto the bed stinking of creosote and left black foot prints all over the duvet. Upside no black footprints on the stairs. Still not sure how he did that but very grateful, all the same. Downside, creosote is poisonous and the way cats clean creosote off their feet is to lick it off.

Oh oh.

There was quite a lot of creosote – admittedly, a bit less than before now he’d left so much on the duvet but still. There was only one thing for it.

“Kitty McCat you have a choice,” I told him. “You may choose bath time or DEATH.”

I’m pretty sure McCat chose death but I overruled him anyway and washed his feet. A process which sounds so simple written down doesn’t it? But which, by dint of him being a cat was not simple and took many minutes. I was soaked by the end and stinking mightily of creosote as well. McCat was a little less stinky, with very damp legs and a lot less gunk on his feet but a lot still there all the same.

Just to throw a little tension into the mix, school run time was looming. And if I was going to get the cat to the vet and McMini to school I had to do something RIGHT THEN!

So I rang the vet and was told to bring McCat in for ‘cleaning’ as soon as I could.

That’s when I looked at my giant cat box and my small car with two seats. No room for cat AND son in car. No other car available, well, there is McOther’s big Chelsea Tractor but I need a wi-fi transponder to drive it and it’s in his pocket. I could get in there and drive to the vets but McOther will receive a phone call telling him someone has stolen his car. And the police will arrest me as I come out. That would make McMini very late for school.Where he was due to be any minute but the longer the cat went with tongue access to creosotey toes the more likely he was to get ill.

But it was OK, a neighbour has kids in McMini’s class and I rushed over and asked if she could take McMini with her lot. Yes. Hoorah! But I noticed they were in uniform. He had his class party today and I thought it was a home clothes day but it seemed I was supposed to send him in uniform with the home clothes in his bag.

Bollocks.

Never mind. With the cat possibly a mere handful of licks away from death there was no time to go home and chance. My son takes at least an hour to put on his clothes anyway. So I hugged him and dumped him and legged it back across the road where I put the cat in the box in car and went to the vet.

I’d called ahead so when I arrived and gave them my name the receptionist called, “The creosote cat’s here.”

Several staff came out to look. I was ushered into a consulting room and the vet confirmed that McSpanner Cat needed more cleaning and that they would be happy to do it for me and just keep an eye on him for the morning.

I left Mr Creosote with them and went Christmas shopping. I bought things for my dad. Handkerchiefs and socks. I looked at all the things he would have liked once and couldn’t cope with now and felt a little teary.

Then I went to home (via the gym). Immediately I got in, the vet rang.

Turns out that McCat had enjoyed a wonderful morning. I think his hosts had enjoyed it too. To wash his feet they put a little warm water in the bottom of a tank so they could stand him in it and lather his toes with swarfiga. He lay down, rolled over and luxuriated among the warm suds. Diva like. On his back. He is such a tart.

When I collected him he was still damp with a couple of bald bits where it got so sticky they had to shave it and wearing a buster collar – or cone of shame as we call it. They told me to keep on him until he was dry. I tried not to mock the afflicted by laughing as I watched him bumping into things, and getting stuck between two chairs as he tried to chase a ping pong ball under the dining table. At one point, he even tried to force the cone of shame through the cat flap.

He failed on that score.

However, he did manage to lick his tail, one back paw and his bum while wearing the cone of shame, a cone he was wearing expressly to stop him from being able to wash himself. He licked the cone of shame a lot too. It was very funny watching him rolling around on his back trying to get one leg round it and into licking reach.

I attempted to take a photo and he looked at me as if to say, ‘Oh no you don’t.’ Then he curled up and waited stoically on the sofa until I left.

He provided some very unhelpful assistance while I made some cakes for McMini’s teachers. Forget the stuff on his feet. He is already the cat version of Mr Creosote the man, a la Monty Python. No food is safe. The cakes proved to be an epic fail. Definitely back to the drawing board on that one – I may as well have let McCat hoover up the mixture the way he wanted to – but first more ingredients required. There is cake mix on the cone of shame.

On the upside, the vet only charged £30 even though McCat was there all morning. Also he is fine albeit a little cowed by his experience. Welcome home Mr Creosote. Like the stuff he walked in, that name will probably stick.

And this is the world of weirdness I live in. At least you can see why my books are strange. Write what you know and all that. And I do.

Now, all I have to do now is put the clean duvet cover on and I’m back to where I was at the beginning of today. A lot of action then, but eff all achieved.

Never mind, if you want to make me feel better, you could always buy my book. If you do it before Sunday you can get it for the knock down price of 99p. If you use the giveaway link, there might even be a free ebook reader in it for you. If you’re interested, you can find links to buy it from the major stores here:

http://hamgee.co.uk/books/escape-from-b-movie-hell/

If you’re not interested… well… I will stop talking about it eventually, I promise. I leave you with a picture of what McCat was probably doing in the bath… at the vet’s.

20150513_131756

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Stealth Marketing in the Grand Tradition of the British Navy.

OK, I’ll admit, it’s a tenuous connection, especially in the extremely likely event I’ve got my facts wrong, but there is this lovely story about Admiral Rodney; that he was concerned that the demand of the British Navy for oak trees to make ships was outstripping British supply. He therefore carried acorns in his pockets and dropped them wherever he went. Actually, it may not even have been Rodney who dropped acorns wherever he went… thinking about it, I have a vague recollection that it was some Elizabethan dude…

Sadly I haven’t been able to get a sniff of conformation on this story in connection  with Admiral Rodney or anyone else. The internet, usually a rich source of substantiation for such bollocks, is disturbingly mute on the topic. Then again, it might have been invented in Britain but it’s definitely American and the demand for trivia pertaining to European history is probably limited over there. I expect I’d be more likely to find it using Google.fr. Possibly… if I was better at French. Or maybe I’ll have to find “Our Island’s Story” a three book set of the most engaging and charmingly written, albeit ideologically unsound and dubiously jingoistic, version of British history ever produced.

But I digress. The reason I mention it is because in a small way I like to think I am upholding this proud naval tradition… except with flyers and bookmarks advertising my books rather than acorns.

GooglyJoy

Eyebombing, harmless naughtiness.

Seldom, do I leave the house without my  pockets weighed down by promotional literature; two business card sized things for books one and two, book marks for three and four, and a packet of googly eyes – because if my target area proves unsuitable for leafleting, there’s always eyebombing.

Wherever I go, I leave promotional bumpf, printed at bargain basement cost. If there’s a rack, I put them in. I was particularly gratified, after leaving some in a hotel when I arrived for the night a couple of weekends ago, to find that the staff had straightened them all out nicely with the other leaflets when I went to breakfast the next morning. As if they were legit.

It helps that as a 45 year old bag, I can pretty much dump these things where they’re not supposed to be in broad daylight, because I look like an upstanding member of the community who is far to old to do anything furtive, subversive or childish. Even if I’m right there, sticking googly eyes on the back of a builder’s lorry, or walking into Starbucks and laying out my  leaflets as if I’m a member of staff, I get the impression that the people who witness it can’t quite believe their eyes or assume my presence there is kosher.

There are other stealthy methods I employ. I leaf through books in the fantasy and science fiction departments in book shops and libraries and slip my cards between the pages for readers to find. I shoved a load into all the Terry Pratchett books in Tesco. I leave them on tables in restaurants and bars, on shelves in stores, slipped behind mirrors in public loos. Naturally I left them on the seat on the tube – on the few occasions I went to London.  I slip them under the windscreen wipers of nice looking cars. Indeed, I have not been above sticking fridge magnets with them on to lamp posts in my locale. Sometimes I even leave whole books. I have even convinced myself that all this works because I have been contacted by a fellow who went home and bought both my books after he and his wife started reading a copy one I left on the shelves in Costa.

Perhaps it sounds a bit strange but all this clandestine activity makes me feel better. As if I am at least pushing the envelope, even if I seem spectacularly unable to push my actual books onto anyone.

It’s easy to get disheartened being an author, even about the things that make you happy, so, for example, a while back, an author friend had a book picked as a read of the month on a forum I visit. I was genuinely over the moon for him because he’d missed out for so long. But it also made me feel a bit disheartened because it occurred to me that of the authors I know well, in the cyber sense, on that forum, I am now the only one who hasn’t ever had a book read in the monthly reads thing. Occasionally stuff like that catches me on the hop and makes me churlishly low – even while I’m being delighted for someone else. I suspect it’s because books are very personal things to write so it’s easy to take that sort of thing the wrong way and feel like the kid in the playground nobody wants to talk to.

Well, we all go through these ups and downs but folks, if you’re going through a down like that I proscribe a bit of stealth marketing, or, if you read books rather than write them, try a bit of cathartic eyebombing. Seriously, it’s a hoot and it’ll pep you up in no time.

So anyway,  it was with much amusement that I read this post on indie hero recently confirming  two things. First, I am not the only one who likes a bit of stealth – he calls it guerilla marketing. Second – tsk – I missed a trick.

I must make myself some stickers.

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Even More McMini

Oh deary me, another one of those weeks, I foolishly volunteered to do a blog meme, thinking I could easily rustle up three victi er hem sorry, three nominees to pass it on to. I have two happily queued up and ready but can I find a third one? No. I have four but two who will break the chain. Even worse, it’s only as I answer the questions that I realise I’ve actually done something very similar before.

Note to self. No memes. No blog chains. Nada. Zilch. Ever again. Why adding a few million links to a blog post should take so long I don’t know but it does. Also, as I’m facing a couple of weeks sans internet, I’ve been scheduling some posts to appear in my electronic absence. Unfortunately, this means I’ve spent all week working on my blog without actually posting anything.

Chaos Fairies 1: Efficiency 0

Never mind, onwards and upwards. I thought I would share some of the latest gems from McMini, so here they are.

On April Fool’s day…
W
e went to the park. Wisely, because the lavatories are at the opposite end to the swings, we went to the bogs first.

“Mummy I need a poo,” said McMini.
“Oh dear, do you? Alright, hang on and I’ll come in with you.”
McMini stood in front of the loo with his hands behind his head.
“Shouldn’t you sit down for a poo?”
“No. I’m only having a wee.”
“Might I suggest that you hold it and aim it for greater accuracy.”
“Oh no Mummy, I much prefer doing it like this, and it’s alright I don’t need a poo. It’s April False day remember? I was just falsing you.”

I put him straight, on both counts.

On his reading assignments…
“Mummy I wish I didn’t have to read a book every night, they are terribly long.”
“Yes, they are but a lot of them are quite fun and you read them very well. Anyway, you don’t remember to change your book every night do you? So technically, you don’t read one every night.”
“True…”
“So what happens if you fail to read your book?”
“We have to sit with one of the big year olds and read it the next day. And it’s always the same big year old.”
“You don’t like that, then?”
“No.”
I laughed at this and told him that I thought ‘big year olds’ was brilliant. I kept forgetting it and asking him to remind me.
“Oh Mummy you really are a porridge brain,” he rolled his eyes. “Come on, say it after me, Big. Year. Olds.”
“Big year olds. Right.”
“Got it?”
“Got it.”

On biology…
I told him he was getting much taller and that I couldn’t believe he grew inside my tummy. He stopped for a moment in shocked silence.

“Mummy, I didn’t grow inside your tummy. I am a boy. I grew inside Daddy’s tummy.”
“No, it takes a man and a lady to make a baby but everyone, girls and boys, grows inside the Mummy.”
“Oh. Are you certain Mummy?”
“Very.”
“So did I just grow?”
“No, Daddy helped.”
“How?”
“Well, men and ladies are made to fit together. The lady’s bits go in and the man’s bits go out like putting a plug into a socket. Then they have a very special cuddle and it makes a baby.”
“Can I have a special cuddle Mummy?”
“Not with me sunshine and certainly not yet. Special cuddles are only for grown ups.”

This was the point where half of me was standing outside myself, looking at what was going on, thinking “holy shit how did I get into this?” The key with these, is to offer enough information to shut them up without them a) getting more interested or b) saying or doing anything weird at school. I think I got away with it but I am beginning to understand why they used to feed kids all that bollocks about storks.

In church…
Loudly, during a particularly quiet, prayerful bit.

“Mummy, I have just done a fart and I can smell it and it’s a really stinky one.”
“Would you like to nip out and have a poo?”
“No, it’s OK, Mummy, I am fine.”
A few seconds later.
“Actually Mummy, I do need a poo.”
There was giggling from the other members of the congregation as we walked out.

At the Altar Rail…
After a lot of lively chat to me about robots and lego StarWars figures I told him he must try to be a little quieter now because people around us were trying to pray.

“Why don’t you try saying a couple of prayers? I’m going to.”
McMini screwed his eyes tight shut and buried his head on his hands. I knew he was really concentrating because only his legs were wriggling. After about 10 seconds he looked up.
“Mummy, I am having a lovely chat with God.”
“Good stuff little one. You carry on.”

Another at the alter rail conversation:

“Mummy, you’re not going to die soon, are you?”
“I hope not. I will at some stage because everyone does but hopefully not yet.”
“Are Annie and Poppa and Gramma and Pappa going to die soon?”
“Not for a while yet, I hope.”
“But they will die before I do?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so.”
“Where do we go to get new Grandparents to replace them?”
“Well… it doesn’t work like that. They’re relatives, so when they die, there’s no-one to replace them.”
“Oh…”

Later that day….

“Mummy Annie laid* you. Who laid Annie?”
“Annie’s Mum, my Granny [name redacted].”
“Oh… who laid her?”
“I think my great, great Granny’s name was ….”
Long thoughtful silence.
“I see….”

On Manners….
While Enthusiastically Eating a Jaffa Cake, also in Church.

“Mummy look! I am ripping it like a dinosaur.”

Still in Church, still in a quiet bit…

“Look!” McMini held up a picture he’d drawn. “he is a baddy cowboy.” McMini then coloured his eyes in brown. “See? He has brown fire coming out of his eyes!”
“Brown Fire sounds like a euphemism for something else.”
“No it’s not brown fire Mummy. It’s pooh. He has pooh coming out of his eyes in big brown pooy streams.”
“Ah…” I replied as the people in the pew behind started giggling. What else could I say?

On school…

A sweet, friendly guest asked him, “Are you at school?”
“Yes.”
“Do you enjoy school?”
“Oh yes,” he said with enthusiasm.
“What’s your favourite lesson?”
“Lunch time.”

On history…
McMini told McOther a long and complicated story about a little girl called Frank who had hidden in a house under a bed from an evil soldier called Hitme. We later discovered that one of his friends had been to Holland over the holidays where she had visited Anne Frank’s house and told McMini all about it.

On cleanliness…
When I was trying to hurry him up going to bed – which takes a sod of a long time, believe me…

“Please will you stay here and play some more, Mummy?”
“I wish I could but I can’t. I have to go and cook your Dad’s tea and have a shower.”
“You don’t need a shower Mummy, you’re very fragrant as you are.”

In Church…
As the Gospel was read from the middle of the aisle, McMini moved over to where the bloke with the incense thingummy (the thurither) was swinging the incense container (the thurible). Slowly but surely he held out his biscuit, kippering it gently over the smoke. Needless to say the thurither (try saying that with your mouth full) started swinging it a bit further in McMini’s direction. Finally, wee man shuffled back to me, kippered gingernut triumphantly in hand.

“Mummy that incense smells delicious!” he said.

* Like an egg as in gave birth to.

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