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Farting around …

Today I’m cheating, I have twenty minutes to write tomrrow’s blog post before my lovely bruv, wife and kids arrive for the weekend. It’s going to be short.  I was going to do something quite deep and metaphysical but as it is, it’s going to be an excerpt from one of my works in progress. So here, from Tripwires, is more wittering about my past I bring you …

The Kitchen Fart

One of the things I love about my parents is that while they taught me that it was important to show consideration for others, they also taught me another very important art, that while consideration is key, there are other instances where it is very important not to give a flying fuck.

The love of farts. What a way to start, but even for British people, my family seems to be peculiarly obsessed. Perhaps it’s just that we share a love of the absurd and there is so much of that to be mined from farts. When I was a teenager, one grandmother, Nye and one grandfather, Gin-Gin, were still around. Gin-Gin was in a home but Nye lived on her own for a while and during that time, she would sometimes come to stay. Obviously, our house wasn’t really ideal for an older person who had trouble getting up and down.

Nye often had to be helped out of our arm chairs because they were a bit too low. When this happened the exertion would often result in her letting loose a thunderous fart. Obviously, despite having a bit of a sense of mischief, Nye was clearly of a view that there are some things a Lady doesn’t mention – and farts appeared to be one of them. So of course, everyone would pretend that the incredibly obvious high-decibel report hadn’t happened. Nye would be handed her sticks and with a quieter fart to mark each stride she would shuffle slowly across the room. Luckily, what the good lord was kind enough to give her in volume, he left out in aroma. We would hear making her way through the hall to the downstairs loo, still farting quietly all the way. Once we heard the door close we would explode with giggles and when she came back after her wee, we’d tell her some terrible joke to explain away our red faces, streaming eyes and uncontrollable laughing.

Amusingly, my Mum’s farts sound exactly the same as Nye’s did, less amusingly, so do mine.

However, while Nye pretended, against all odds, that her farts didn’t exist, Mum has never had any qualms about making some remark about it, or just giggling if she accidentally let one go. One of the most used phrases in our family is, ‘where ere you be let your air blow free, I held mine in, twas the death of me’. If think it comes from a Scottish tombstone somewhere (although the original uses the Scottish dialect ‘gang’ rather than blow which has a slightly different meaning – go/wander – but hey, the sentiment is similar).

The other day, I was with Mum in the kitchen and since it was Mum and it would make her giggle, when I felt one bubbling up, I didn’t bother to ease it quietly out but let it go. Several minutes of childish giggling ensued and Mum said, ‘Good heavens! That sounds exactly like one of mine.’

To which I replied, ‘Just imagine it, if one of the carers has heard it, they won’t know which of us it was!’

‘Or they’ll think it was me,’ she said. ‘I’m worse than Nye these days, I fart every time I stand up.’

After we’d finished chuckling about this, Mum reminded me of an occasion when Dad was still a housemaster. We were in the kitchen, me doing my homework at the table, Mum baking. Two of the girls in one of Dad’s sets were having trouble with some of the Greek they were learning so he had offered them an extra lesson, to explain it all again. They were with him in the next room, the study. Mum had offered them a cup of tea of course, which, Mum being Mum, came with flapjack, home made cake and biscuits. The girls had accepted Mum’s offer so now she had put a tray on the table opposite me and was laying out cups and saucers. She and went to the larder at the other end of the room, to get the biscuit tin. As she made her way across the room she let out what might be the loudest fart I’ve ever heard. It sounded like someone dragging a heavy chair twenty yards across a tiled floor in a room above.

‘Ooo that’s better,’ she said once the furniture had stopped shaking enough for me to be able to hear her, and then both of us fell about laughing. Suddenly, I remembered Dad’s lesson in the next room. On the down side, the doors to both the kitchen and the study were open, on the up side, though ‘next door’ the actual entrance to the study was about four metres away down a corridor.

‘Oh no! Mum, what if the girls heard?’ I asked keenly aware that the attitude to farts displayed by myself and my mum was not standard among females.

‘It’ll be alright, they can’t possibly have heard it from there.’

I thought about the number of times I’d heard my mum fart in the kitchen while watching TV in the drawing room which was a lot further away from the kitchen then the dining room, where the girls where.

‘Seriously Mum, I think they will have done, it was impressively loud.’

‘I do hope not,’ said Mum and we began to giggle some more. ‘Never mind,’ she said as she filled the teapot, ‘we’ll soon know. I’m going to take this through now.’

She came back a few minutes later looking a slightly chastened, but only slightly.

‘I think you’re right,’ she said. ‘Your father clearly didn’t hear a thing, but the girls did, because when I went in with the tea they got the giggles.’

Later I attended reunion at school for women in my house and to my delight, I met the two girls in question and after much giggling as I related the story they confirmed that yes, they had heard the fart loud and clear.

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Trust me, I’m an expert … mwahahahaahrgh!

As you are all aware, because heaven knows I bang on about it enough, I lead a very busy life and because the tolerances for error are quite small, I sometimes make a comprehensive fuck up of things. Quite a lot of the time, to be honest. One of my specialities on this front is turning up at the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s the latest instance of this which I’d like to share with you now. It happened like this …

McMini and I are sitting at home relaxing after he’s come home from school when I open an email from the school. It is a new layout, and it starts like this.

Thursday 8th January,

SATS evening for parents.

Dear Parents/Carers

On Thursday 17th January at 6pm, we will be holding an information event …

PFC – pretty fucking clear – right? Er, no. Not to muggins here. I have seen the date at the top, Thursday which is tonight, and the title, SATS evening for parents, and so I ignore the body of the letter, because I’m far too fucking busy to read that, and merely scan for the start time, ah yes, 6.00pm.

I look at my watch.

‘Shit it’s five o’clock!’

‘What’s up Mum?’ says a cheery voice from the other room.

‘The school is doing a thing about your SATS and it’s tonight, at six pm.’

‘Oh what? Do we have to go?’

‘Afraid so, it’s really important.’

McMini appears in the hall all rolling eyes and sighs, ‘Won’t Dad be back in time for me to stay here?’

‘Not at six, no, sorry.’

‘Oh well, I have some charge on my iPad, can I bring that?’

‘Yes, and your reading homework, you can write your book report while your’re there.’

He’s leaning over my arm, reading the email on my phone.

‘Hang on Mum, it says kids aren’t allowed.’

‘No it says it’s not for you, I can still bring you along if I’ve nowhere else to put you, they just mean that I don’t have to bring you if there’s someone you can stay with at home.’

So we get ready but we take too long so we have to go in the car because there isn’t time to walk. When I get up there, we are, parking, and of course it’s one of those ones where it goes wrong. You know how, when you’re in a hurry, you always get the angle wrong and have to come back out and start again. Off we go, second time, reverse, turn, turn, turn, ‘MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!’

‘Shit.’

The arrow is actually pointing to the place where I’d put the firing button for the machine guns I will be placing behind the lights at some stage. Except now I’m thinking that if I’ll be inadvertently spraying the streets with fire every time I parallel park it might not be such a good idea. You can see the little trumpet where the hooter button is to the right of the arrow. There’s one of those each side so I have double the opportunities to beep in error like a fucktard.

I used to have a car with a hooter in the centre of the steering wheel and I beeped it with my elbow every time I reversed. This car has two hooter switches, one each side. Someone does something stupid on the motorway, nearly killing us all and can I find the hooter? Can I buffalo? But I still manage to beep the fucking thing by mistake every. Sodding. Time. I. Park! Maybe when I’m next in a dangerous situation, I should try not to hoot, then I might chuffing manage it.

McMini puts on an expression of mock shock at me for swearing and in his best Walter from Dennis the Menace voice he says,

‘Mother I’ve told you about swearing in front of me, you’re setting a very bad example.’

‘I know, I’m a terrible mother,’ I reply, giggling because I know he’s only taking the piss.

‘There’s an old man in that house staring out of the window at us, he’s looking very disapproving.’

‘I expect he is. I’m making a right pig’s ear of this parking.’

‘It’s not the parking, I don’t think he liked you hooting.’

‘I don’t blame him. I didn’t either. Right,’ I haul the handbrake on. ‘Come on, let’s go.’

Immediately a stream of cars comes up the street so we have to wait for them to pass before McMini can get out.

‘It’s the Truman Show!’ he says cheerfully. ‘They’ve been waiting ages to drive up here at the moment it would be most annoying for you.’

I heartily agree. My whole life’s the fucking Truman Show in that respect,

We arrive at the school as the clock on the church two streets over strikes six. Woot. Not exactly timely but we won’t have to do the walk of shame to the only seats left (at the front). Well, no, that’s not true. We will have to do the walk of shame but at least we won’t be doing it after the talk has started. I push the button to open the door but there’s no-one to buzz us through the air-lock or whatever they call the next bit.

‘Strange.’

Just then, two teachers appear and they come out and ask us if they can help. We say why we are there and they buzz us in.

‘Are you sure it’s tonight?’ asks one.

I’m not as it happens. I meant to check the email before leaving. ‘I thought it was,’ I say weakly.

‘The light’s aren’t on and there’s no-one else in the hall,’ says the other.

‘Uh … right,’ I say.

‘I’ll go and ask Mr Hammond,’ (the headmaster) ‘he’s still in his office,’ says the first one and she runs off up the stairs.

I have an Ely. That is, according to The Meaning of Liff, the first tiniest inkling that something has gone horribly wrong.

‘Hmm … I’m a bit of a spanner with dates, I may have stuffed up,’ I tell the other teacher as we wait. ‘Hang on, I’ll check the email.’

I get the email open and see that I have, indeed, misread it.

‘Shit,’ I say before I can stop myself. ‘Sorry,’ I start laughing, because cheery apology seems the best way to play it, ‘Will you look at that? I’m such a bell-end, I’ve got the wrong day.’ I remember that the other teacher has gone to get the headmaster. ‘Oh no I’m so sorry, and now I’ve woken the Kraken and everything!’ I say as I turn and realise Mr Hammond and the other teacher have just arrived and heard everything, including the bit where I refer to the act of fetching him from his office as ‘waking the Kraken’.

He looks knackered and I apologise for dragging him away from his work. The three of them are all extremely good natured and up beat about it, I’d have told me to fuck off! and we laugh and apologise cheerily and McMini and I go away marvelling, in a slightly giggly way, at my complete ineptitude. As I get into the car. McMini says,

‘Mother you swore in front of the teachers, you said ‘shit’ and you called yourself a bell-end in front of Mr Hammond.’

‘Oh dear, did I?’

‘Yes you did! You know in early years, when I said bollocks and I got told off and they asked me where I got it from and I said ‘my mum’ and they didn’t’ believe me?’ he says, reminding me of yet another example of exemplary parenting from my past.

‘Yes I do,’ I reply.

‘Well they know I wasn’t lying now! Because they’ve heard you swearing, so they know it was you and they know you’re a foul-mouthed shrek-lady. They’ve got … what is it when you have loads of evidence?’

‘Hard evidence?’

‘No.’

‘Cast iron proof?’

‘No.’

‘They’ve got me bang to rights?’

‘That’s the one! They now have you bang to rights because they have concrete evidence that you swear in front of me and not just in front of me but in front of the headmaster! They know you are a very bad mother.’

We start laughing about this but I do manage to leave the parking space without beeping the chuffing hooter again and the Disapproving Man has gone from the window so I thank the lord for small mercies.

‘I am a bad mother, but, at the same time, I must be doing something right if I have such a good, well mannered little boy.’ Obviously, I say this in a really syrupy voice, like the Walter the Softee one he does when he calls me ‘mother’.

‘True mother, despite your somewhat idiosyncratic parenting you really have produced a most charming and well behaved child.’

‘Exactly, you hear and see me behaving extremely badly but you don’t, that has to count for something,’ I say. ‘Although, they’ll be wondering back there, won’t they?’

‘Yes, they’ll be saying to each other, “how could such an evil crone produce such a perfect little boy?”’

‘Indeed. Why is he not affected by that potty-mouthed harridan he calls his mother? Mr Hammond has probably had to go and have a lie down.’

‘I bet he does an assembly about it tomorrow, he’ll say McMini is a lovely charming little boy despite the fact his mother is a horrific, sweary, shrek-like crone!’

‘That’s right, he’ll say I’m dirty! A dirty, filthy, vile, morally-dissolute, harridan!’

‘And a shrek!’

‘And a shrek.’

We spend the journey home coming up with more and more colourful adjectives for fictional Mr Hammond to use in assembly while describing my dreadfulness, and shouting them at a higher and higher volume, as if his fictional disapproval is moving from strongly-voiced, through angry to apoplectic.  The incongruity of this, when placed against the actual, real Mr Hammond, who is is the most calm, measured and even-tempered person you could care to meet, is a source of childish amusement to both of us.

We continue randomly shouting pejorative adjectives at one another for several days.

I really should be setting an example.

Yeh but …

Oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

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Feels like Friday!

Shall I let you into a secret? This is my favourite time of the year. Especially Epiphany (next Sunday).

Don’t panic! It’s 2019.

Why? Because I get to look back at what I’ve achieved in a good year, and on to what I might achieve – I might do a bit more looking forward than back if I’ve had a bad year but that’s the loveliness of it. It’s only the beginning of the year so there’s that glorious, clean-page feeling you can only possibly enjoy during the few, early weeks have when you haven’t fucked anything up yet.

Then there’s the fact the days are getting longer, the bulbs are beginning to peep through, the birds are suddenly singing a LOT louder. There is a buzz and energy to everything, as if nature knows that no matter how cold it might yet get and no matter how mid winter it actually still is, we have turned the corner. It’s a kind of school’s out feeling.

The big one, of course, is that Christmas is over, I am no longer writing lists, trying to remember all the things I am supposed to do, or trying to work out if I’ve posted the Christmas cards or remembered to buy more stamps. There’s no travel, no wondering, nervously, if I’ve booked the cat in kennels on the right dates even though I know I’ve checked and re-checked. There’s no packing or making sure that lots of things are clean so I can just put one suitcase down in the hall and pick up the other one as we make a quick 24 hour pit stop at home on the way from Scotland to Sussex, or vice versa.

There’s none of the omnipresent worry, the feeling I’ve forgotten something. Nor, indeed, the very real danger of causing horrific offence though some gifting oversight or greetings-related vaguary. No trying to recall if I’ve sent that calendar to Aunt Ada, and if I have, whether Aunt Doris should have one too, or whether I put a family letter in Cousin Mabel’s card. Or have I sent the right cards to the right halves of the divorcees? I did catch myself in time before I posted a card to the lady half of a divorced couple in the envelope addressed to her ex. That was close.

There’s no fielding all the calls from people who want to know how Mum and Dad are but are too shy to call direct, ‘because we know your father’s ill and we haven’t heard anything’. No more trying to explain to them that they haven’t heard anything because my father is ill, not because my mother doesn’t want to call for another year. No more efforts to try and underline, gently, that Mum would love to hear from them but that she has a dash of dementia too, now, and that they haven’t heard because they need to call her.

Doing Christmas and New Year is like sitting a rather onorous set of exams.  It’s alright if you are prepared but I am not always prepared because … life.

Christmas and New Year require me to be a grown up, be the matriarch and generally do adulting, hard.

Adulting is not something I do well.

Epiphany, on the other hand, is when I come out the other end, exams sat, adulting done, no clue as to the results but nothing more than the thank you letters to worry about, which are usually done by that time because even if they feel like pulling teeth, they’re the last push, the the last bit of grown-up-ness between me and freedom, and it always feels good to get them finished by the first weekend in January so I can relax.

There is the glorious revelling in the knowledge that Next Christmas and New Year are about as far away as it is possible for them to be. That smug feeling you get buying next year’s wrapping paper and Christmas cards for a third of the price in the sales and putting them away. There’s the fabulous relief that all the weird people who love Christmas and bang on about it from about July will actually shut the fuck up about it for a couple of months. No more Christmas jumper pictures on Facebook. Woot. But I suppose, most importantly, after a month or two of frenetic planning and pretending to be a grown up, Epiphany brings a bit of space, some time to reflect on the past year and look at what I have – or haven’t – done. And with that, usually, comes a feeling of great peace.

Next year is going to be tough but we’ll get through somewhow.

This year, I have learned that I need to write to maintain my sanity. More importantly, as well as learning that I needed to do that, I learned how to. I have not been so calm for a long time – don’t get excited it’s all relative, I’m still bouncing about like a kernel in a popcorn maker and I am still exasperated by trivial and mundane things. I still get menopausally, hormonally, mental baggage-ly angry about ridiculously small stuff and end up shouting at strangers but … er hem … in a more relaxed and benign way. Phnark.

So yeh. Very little has changed, except the gargantuan word total, there just seems to have been this weird shift in the way I look at it. It’s not all roses, but it’s not all stingy nettles and jaggy brambles anymore, either!

I am aware that my feeling of peace is probably nothing more than the calm before the storm but I’ll enjoy it while it’s here. As for 2019, I know some things are going to be grim, but I’m still looking forward to it, I’m still hopeful and still intrigued as to what it will bring.

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A family take on remembrance

For a while now, I’ve been meaning to post about our sneaky weekend away to look at the battlefields of the Somme. What better time to do it than today, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War?

It’s complicated, but basically, McOther had two grandfathers on his dad’s side, one who gave him his name and one who is his blood relative. Both are held in love and revered. Name grandfather was injured at the Somme so we went to have a look at where he was. McMini is very keen on flying and aviation, mainly from the Second World War but also from the First World War, especially Baron Von Richoften. So as well as going to see the spot where McOther’s namesake grandfather was shot we thought we’d see if we could find the area where the Red Baron was shot down, too.

McOther’s grandfather was found in no-man’s land by the Germans, with a sizeable head wound, taken to the first aid station and patched up. He had lost almost a third of his brain and was repatriated in a prisoners swap. The Germans, I think it was the Germans, had given him a metal plate in his head. Subsequently, he was paid £200 each year to go up to his nearest teaching hospital – Glasgow, I think – where the metal plate would be removed and eager medial students would crane in to see what a live brain looked like. He made his living on this – it’s the equivalent of … I dunno, about £8.5 – £10k today? As much as some people earned, anyway, and definitely close to a living.

Naturally McOther’s family were very pleased to get their son home with a Blighty wound that would ensure he didn’t have to go back to the front. However, there were hidden aspects of his injury that only became apparent as he grew older. Part of the problem was that the large part of his brain that was lost was to do with maturity and its departure meant that his personal, emotional and mental development stalled; frozen, forever at eighteen, the age he was when he was shot. This wasn’t so noticeable, at first, but as he aged he still behaved like an eighteen year old. As his wife grew older, and her outlook matured, his stood still. He began to find it difficult being married to someone so much older than him. He felt eighteen, he expected his wife to be the same age as him, and, more to the point, look eighteen. This woman was more like his mum. Likewise, McOther’s grandmother began to find the maturity levels of an eighteen year old husband a serious challenge when it came to the responsibilities of being a father and raising children.

I remember one of McOther’s uncles telling me that his father still expected to be as fit as an eighteen year old aged sixty. He would come out cycling with said uncle and his friends and couldn’t comprehend why he wasn’t able to attain the same fitness, stamina and speed levels at the young lads around him. It wasn’t an affectation, he literally, didn’t know or even comprehend that he was older. Unfortunately this caused a bit of tension at home, which is why, eventually, he and McOther’s grandmother divorced and she married again. The children all kept the original family name, including the two sons she had with her second husband. This just goes to show how, on top of the death rate, the mental scars the survivors carried may often have been as significant, if not more so, than any physical injuries they endured.

Thus it was that, a few weekends ago, we went off to France and went to the Somme.  Over the weekend, we looked at Beaumont Hamil which is where McGrandfather’s regiment went over the top and where he was injured, the site of the Red Baron’s death and we visited the Australian Memoral. We also visited one of the best air museums I have ever been to which I’ll have to leave for another post.

Site of Baron Von Richthofen’s death.

The weather was lovely on the first day so first we visited the area where the Red Baron died. There’s not much there. Just a plaque by the side of the road, a bit like Agincourt.

Apparently, shot and mortally wounded as he was, Baron Von Richthofen managed to crashland his plane, clipping a chimney with the wheels as he flew over and landing roughly in a field. This photo shows the chimney on the left hand side. Allied soldiers rushed to the plane and he whispered the word, ‘Kaput,’ slumped over the controls and died.

McMini, who has devoured every piece of literature he can find about the Red Baron, explained that Baron Von Richthofen was one of the true knights of the air, in the tradition of chilvalry, because he was always at pains to stress that his pilots should try to break the opponent’s plane rather than kill the person flying it. I’ve no idea if it’s true, but it sounds plausible. He was buried with full military honours by the allies, anyway and it’s the reason McMini admires him so much.

Afterwards, we stopped in a couple of cemeteries and walked through the graves reading the inscriptions. The thing that always strikes me about these places is the atmosphere of calm and peace. It feels as if these people are, well … if not at rest then, at least, reconciled to their deaths. There is an almost healing intensity to that calm which I can’t really explain but it is special. Some of the families of the fallen had inscriptions put on the headstones. There was a limit to this. Sixty characters, including the spaces. A world of love and grief to express. A life to sum up. Sixty characters to do it in. That’s pared to the bone, raw, sometimes powerful and often moving.

Every war-mongering idiot in charge of a nation should be made to read these before taking office and then one or two every day. Sixty characters may be all they had but, done with feeling, sixty characters is all it takes, trust me.

Perhaps it’s because I’m peri-menopausal, perhaps it’s because, as a mother, I know how much effort and energy it takes to make a life and raise one child, let alone more. Whatever it is, I only need to read a few of these and I’m distinctly moist about the eyes. Linger too long and I’m in danger of bursting into tears and blubbing like a four-star nut-bar. There’s one grave at Beaumont Hamil with an inscription from a wife to her husband which reads something like, ‘Husband, best friend, I loved you in life and I love you still’. I think the guy was about 40 when he was killed. Thinking about it, perhaps I’m not menopausal, because I found that 10 years ago and I cried then. I didn’t find it this time, so I couldn’t check the exact inscription but as we walked about the other cemeteries, I found more. And as it’s the 100 year anniversary of the end of hostilities in the First World War tomorrow, I thought I’d share some of the inscriptions with you.

One of the first things that strikes you, coming to these places, is that people have come from the four corners of the earth to honour their fallen just as those family members travelled thousands of miles to fight, before. Not just in the main memorial areas but in any cemetery you cared to stop at along the road, there were knitted poppies, and even, in one instance, a little knitted flower and Australian flag on one unknown Australian soldier’s grave, which was almost more poignant than if the occupant’s name had been known.

Some inscriptions were religious, ‘he was a good catholic’ one French Canadian grave reads.  Another Australian grave, ‘Christ will clasp the broken chain closed when we meet again.’ Others while grieving, are kind of upbeat, ‘A noble son, a brother kind, a beautiful memory left behind.’ Or on the date of a sargant in the medical corps, who died so tragically late in the conflict; on 1st November, 1918, aged 28, ‘With Christ, which is far better.’ And the strength and raw power of feeling behind the beauty of this one; ‘Still living, still loving, still ours.’

Then there are the stiff upper-lip ones, ‘As a soldier and a man, one of Australia’s best.’ Laid at the grave are two crocheted poppies and a little Australian flag. On the grave of a 20 year old sapper, ‘In memory of our dearly loved son and brother.’ Or on another, ‘Far away but not forgotten, Mother’. Or the one that still makes me cry, ‘In loving memory of my darling son, sleep on in peace dear’. Jeepers. ‘Not dead in hearts left behind.’ Or on the grave of a member of the Gordon Highlanders, ‘One of the best, Drumoak’. And another, a member of the Black Watch, which was McGrandfather’s regiment, ‘Time makes his memory still more dear,’ or on a member of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire regiment, ‘Sleep on, dear son, and take rest.’ On another sapper, a British one this time, the achingly poignant, ‘Only good night beloved, not farewell.’

Then there is the out-and-out anguished, ‘Oh how I miss him, no tongue can tell, the happy face I loved so well,’ or there is, ‘His war is over, his sun is set, but we who loved him can’t forget.’ Or ‘Sleep on dear son in a far off grave. A grave we never see.’ I wonder if they were going to say ‘we’ll never see’ but were left, two characters short. The message comes over well enough without.

Lastly there is the occasional political one, ‘Who lives if Britain dies, who dies if Britain lives.’

Even now, 100 years on, it is incredibly poignant to visit the cemeteries and read the graves. There is a world of grief and love in sixty characters.

Drawing by an Australian solider

 

 

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This week, I have been mostly … writing.

Wow MTM has finished another short! Shock horror!

A while ago you may remember I talked about an anthology I was involved in called Christmas Lites. The deadline for the next one is looming for August and I want to write something bespoke for this year’s. I sat down to try and do something on 27th June and this last Thursday, I finished the result. Except the maximum is ten thousand words, which I aimed for, like a fool, so it’s now too long dammit; about thirteen thousand. That is exactly what happened last time I tried to write a ten thousand word short. Actually thinking about it I’m pretty sure that one ended up at about seventeen thousand words. You’d have thought I’d have worked it out by now wouldn’t you? but no. Doh.

Anyway, I started on a different short for Christmas Lites yesterday and this time I’m aiming for seven thousand words on the premise that I should end up with about nine if I do that.

The shorts are just one of the many things I’m working on in my new, always have something to write that suits your mood, technique. I sweated blood over the K’Barthan Series and I can’t bring myself to sell those books for $2.99 a pop – not in the volume they sell at because I reckon if you’re going to sell one book a month, you need to crank up the price and make more cash on each sale.

The shorts, on the other hand, are meant to be a bit cheaper so it’s not quite such a gamble to try the longer books, the K’Barthan ones at any rate. So far, the ones that actually are short are all about the male lead in the K’Barthan Series and they are episodes from his life on the run before the events in the series start, although I have one in mind about after the series, but it’s a massive spoiler for anyone who reads it by mistake first so I may just write it and make it into exclusive fan content or something. Obviously, the short series involve some of the other characters who appear in the books as well, like Big Merv, Gladys, Ada and Their Trev and so on. Although sadly, as Ruth’s in London being a normal human being at this point, I can’t really do any about her.

My cunning plan was to write five or six of them and then sell them at $1.25 a pop to introduce the characters to readers. This has, sort of, worked, except that the one I started on at the request of the late, great Kate Jackson – who some of you will know – is now at 60k and promising to turn into the usual MTM 140k behemoth. So that’s something I’m working on, along with Space Dustmen and Tripwires (the non fiction thing).

But the point of the shorts was that they are, by their very definition, less complicated, so they take less mental capacity at a period in my life when my grey matter is sub par a lot of the time. They’re also good because if I only have an hour to write in, it’s not going to take me that entire time catching up, and they tie in with my new writing regimen, which is to attempt to write for ten minutes every day (it often turns into more but on days when I’m struggling, I can usually manage to squeeze ten minutes in somewhere and that makes it easier to keep track on where things are going and it makes it easier for me to feel good about myself because I’ve ‘done writing’ and kept things moving).

All in all, this month, things are looking good. My social media presence is dropping, I haven’t run an ad for a sod of a long time and my mailings are all going out late but I have something to show for it; another complete work of fiction, which means I now have two in the bag, and with the Christmas Lites one, it’ll be three. Woot.

Batching editing, covers etc of all five or six will help me to keep production prices down, especially on the cover art work, which I’m hoping to sort in a way that makes it useable for ads and publicity and stuff like that. However, I appreciate it is a pain in the arse from my readers’ point of view. Sure they’ve been waiting three years for me to release a new book and they’re probably used to it by now but even so. It’s a long time. Which is why I’m a bit nervous and sweaty today as I’ve decided to do something unusual and share some.

CAVEAT: This is extremely raw unedited shizz.

Here’s the link: http://www.hamgee.co.uk/shortexcerpt.html

Enjoy.

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Uh oh. The Chaos Fairies are back …

Blimey, it’s been all go this week. Last night McCat caught sight of another cat in the garden and went nuts, I was alerted by the sound of a plant being knocked from a windowsill. Things  went downhill from there, with McCat moving to the cat flap. He smashed it two weeks ago trying to get at this cat – then it was the extraordinary growling and yelling noises he was making that alerted me to the problem. Last night he ran from the conservatory when I arrived, and the cat outside fled, too. McCat tore after him through the kitchen, with Strange Cat taking the parallel path outside. McCat had already started on the cat flap by the time I got there. In a few short seconds, he bent and broke my fabulous framer’s tape mend and got half the casing off the front.

Mended cat flap. Note my blood all over the surround on the right hand side. Mmm nice.

When I grabbed him and hauled him away, I caught a claw up the side of one finger and began to bleed profusely all over everywhere.

McCat kept going back, all the while howling in impotent fury, and I kept dragging him away and trying to lock him in the utility room, where he sleeps. But I couldn’t get out of the door quickly enough and he was getting back out with me every time. It was like some comedy parody of a night club punch up with the fighters, shouting,

‘I’ll kill you, you bastard! I’ll kill you!’ While the girls scream and their drunken friends try to drag them apart shouting,

‘Leave it mate, leave it. He ain’t worth it.’

And all that malarky.

Eventually I managed to persuade McCat to stay in the utility room long enough for me to shut the door by the time honoured method of bribing him with food. Then I sellotaped a magazine over the cat flap and let him out into the kitchen for a quick cuddle before both of us, and McOther, went to bed for the night. This morning I bought a new cat flap just in case but I think I have managed to get away with fixing up the old one again. Still, the new one will come in handy if we want to do something like say, sell the house, for example.

Then I came to use a voucher some kind friends had bought me last year, to have a go in a flotation tank. It was fab, however, while I was drying my hair afterwards, there was a kind of thump and I found the lady in charge of the tanks, so to speak, in a bad way on the floor. She was feeling sick and dizzy, which I recognised as shock. Nurse MTM (phnark) proscribed deep breaths and that she should take her time before getting up. She said she heard something click and I suspect she’d either cracked her collarbone or knackered some shoulder ligaments. She thought she was fine. I didn’t. Her shock symptoms were very similar to those displayed by my sister in-law when she fell down my parents’ stairs and broke her ankle. So I suspect there was a fair bit of pain.

It was a while before I felt she was OK to leave but when I could I went and got someone to come and help her. Then when she, and they assured me she would be alright if she just sat outside in the garden on a bench, I left, which involved going through several security doors to reception, where I realised I’d left my coat. So then I had to get someone to come and let me back in through all the security doors to pick it up again. I never found out how much it would be to float again, but it was a very pleasant experience so I think I will at some point, when I have the time.

On a different note …

Slugs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails …

Yes, I can confirm this actually is be what little boys are made of. It’s high time you heard some more instalments of McMini. Just because I haven’t had time to put them up here, it doesn’t mean his eccentricity has abated in any way, nor his ability to negotiate, at length, over everything, or that he has become any less disgusting.

Despite being the prime male in the house McOther is the least gross of all of us, while McMini, at the top of the vile-o-metre, way outstrips anything I can even imagine for grossness if only for his approach to personal hygiene (and that approach goes like this: Why?’) while I come in a very creditable second for grossness, but nowhere near his epic yukkiness on the personal hygiene front, I’m pleased to say. Even the cat comes ahead of McOther as he proved the other night, as he sat on my lap, by actually lifting himself a little and then releasing the most abominable fart on earth. But I digress we were talking about, McMini. First, here’s what we are up against negotiation-wise.

Let the negotiations commence …

Points for lateral thought.

The other day, McOther found McMini reading in bed at stupid o’clock at night. He laid down a firm diktat that McMini must not read in bed. The next night, at about half past ten, McOther and I came to bed only to discover McMini on the lavatory, reading.

‘What are you doing? It’s way past your bed time!’ wailed McOther in despair.

‘You said I couldn’t read in bed, but you said nothing about reading in the loo,’ said McMini.

Unbounded vileness; gross factor nine million.

Then there’s this … conversation late at night when we had said good night and were just about to turn his light out and go downstairs for an hour or two of crap TV.

‘Dad, can I go downstairs and get my penknife?’
‘Why?’
‘Because I want to cut my toenails and eat them.’
Mummy shudders, ‘Ug. I thought you bit them off and ate them.’
‘I did but I can’t do that anymore. I’m not so bendy as I was.’
‘Well, you can have it tomorrow morning. You can cut your nails and eat all the toenails you like,’ Arnold’s bottom! Am I really saying this? ‘before I drag you to church.’
‘Yes,’ McOther chips in, ‘You can have a whole bunch of crispy toenails.’
‘I can’t eat toenails in the morning. I will need something much more substantial! Toenails are an evening snack.’
McMini then proceeds to bite his own big toe nail by way of demonstration.
‘Look mummy! I can do it after all.’
‘Ug,’ says McOther and wisely, he leaves.
‘Mmm yummy!’ says McMini.
‘Surely it’s cheesy if it’s off your feet.’ I say. McMini doesn’t like cheese.
‘Not really. The nails are crunchy, the toe jam can be a bit cheesy sometimes.’
‘You eat toe jam!?’
‘Of course.’
‘And when you say “toe jam,” you really mean toe jam? You know those little cheesy bits under the corner of your toenails.’
‘Yes it’s delicious,’ picks a bit off and eats it. ‘Mmm lemony. Hey Mum, do you remember when you used to cut your toe nails and I grabbed them and ate them*.’
‘I am really, really trying to forget that.’

* I’m afraid this is true he really did grab my toenail clippings and eat it. It’s one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen anyone do.

The bonus …

So on one level, my boy probably needs Special Help. On the other, we were playing Monopoly last night which involves sitting on the floor. I am not at home on the floor anymore, pretty much any position I can think of hurts my knees. McMini looked at me thoughtfully for a moment.

‘Mummy, you’re not comfortable there, are you?’
‘No, not really but it’s not too bad.’
‘Hang on.’

He ran upstairs to his bedroom and came back with a pillow.

‘Here you are Mummy,’ he handed me the pillow. ‘That should be more comfy.’ I thanked him and he went and sat down.

I cling to the fact that McMini may be quite eccentric, he may have difficulty remembering what day of the week it is, when his home work is due, about that thing he was supposed to bring into school for science, etc and he may be pathologically unable to tidy his room. Ever. He may keep wiping his nose on his shirt even though he’s been told it’s not OK and he may have some weird idea – like James Hunt – that smelling rank is a good thing. But he is thoughtful and he is kind and I guess if he takes care of those two, the rest is gravy.

_____________________________________________

And finally … something completely different.

Yep, if things are a bit chaotic down your way, never fear. I can thoroughly recommend the use of a humorous book to take your mind off it, or cheer yourself up.

Mission Improbable, by my cyber author buddy J J Green is still on sale for a hugely cost effective 99c. If you think it sounds interesting you can find links to grab it from most major retailers here.

Meanwhile, my first in series, Few Are Chosen, is also 99c at the moment so if you want to give some of my stuff a whirl you can find out about that on a similar page, with links to the major retailers (and an offer) here.  You can also discover more about each book by clicking the cover pictures.

 

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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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