Tag Archives: writing

Birthdays and some inane wittering

Do you ever wonder what you’re going to be when you grow up? I was 53 yesterday so I suspect I should hvae grown out of the habit by now. However, I still look to the future and wonder what I will ‘be’. Well no, I don’t wonder that, being an author is definitely what I’m here to do but I do wonder if I will ever ‘make it’. Making it, here, is earning £20k a year. Even minimum wage would be nice. I was going to do a long post today, trying to put my jumbled thoughts about selling audio books in order. It’s a bit rambly though, so I’m going to leave it to rest in the faint hope that if I come back to it fresh next week I’ll be able to make it more articulate. Also,it’s my birthday weekend and I decided that, instead, I’d just describe some MTM-ness … so long as I can make it funny enough.

It was a hot day yesterday but I did some gardening so I am still bathing in that warm sense of fitness smugglers I get when I’ve taken enough exercise to get my fitbit in a dither. I was expecting to wake up with vertigo or at the least hayfever. It was hayfever only, which was grand, although not so grand when I had to sing a solo in church. My voice went all crackly on the low notes which was a bit of a bummer so I had to sing very quietly to stop the low notes coming out as more of a yodel. Plus points, well, it was mostly in tune.

Other domestic news and general goings on. It was McMini’s birthday on Saturday as well as mine. This being the case, yesterday, I set about making a cake. McMini being not the biggest fan of chocolate and me loving it, I have resigned myself to the fact I will never have a chocolate birthday cake again. On the other hand … there’s always stealth chocolate. The white stuff. Among my family and friends, I am renowned for my horrible looking, but quite tasty cakes. Thinking about it, there are probably photos deep in the archives of this blog of my cakewrecks from previous occasions. If there are, I will try and find them and dot them about this post when I’ve finished.

There wasn’t much time, when is there ever? But I reckoned I could bash out a fatless sponge (swiss roll cake to the uninitiated) and I had some white chocolate which I could melt across the top of it (Bury St Edmunds market, £1 per catering sized bag). Excellent. I made the fatless sponge and it being a hot day the eggs and sugar took about five seconds to get to the right consistency. Believe it or not, it can take as long as 15 minutes on a cold day, I suppose that’s why they used to recommend you did this in a bowl perched over the top of a saucepan of hot water. That was in the olden days of beating it by hand, of course. Obviously, neither I, nor Mum, who handed this recipe down to me, can be arsed with that sort of malarkey. Also, two words. Kenwood and Chef. Yep. I have two of these babies but McOther has put one away in the pantry under the stairs where I can’t remove it without kneeling down so that one is temporarily out of action. Instead I had to use the, supposedly mothballed, back up machine, purchased some years ago for £5 from a car boot sale. Note to self, remember to mention to McOther that he has mothballed the wrong one.

When I’d finished the mixture I discovered I’d made a bit too much so there were seven bonus buns as well. Jolly dee. I rustled up some icing for the middle; butter, sieved icing sugar, a couple of drops of vanilla essence to taste and then just mix it about and add sugar or butter as desired until it tastes like butter icing. It was one of those days when it all comes together straight away and tastes as if a real chef made it. I was very pleased with the results and even more pleased that I remembered to let the cake get cold before I slathered it all across the middle. Cake pretty much constructed, next it was time to do the white chocolate icing for the top. The trouble with purchasing catering sized bags of stuff is that they are big and this can led you to believe you have an inexhaustible supply.

Over the past few weeks, since I purchased the bag, I have been grazing lightly, on the white chocolate. Just the odd couple of buttons here and there, but when I came to examine it, I realised I might have been grazing a bit more heavily than I’d anticipated. There wasn’t quite enough of the stuff to just melt it and pour it over the top of the cake, indeed, there wasn’t nearly enough.

Mmm … cake!

Bollocks.

Never mind I would add icing sugar and butter, warm them all up in a saucepan and it would set hard with any luck. The result of my efforts was a ball of great-tasting stuff which, unfortunately, was not unlike pastry in consistency.

Right.

After a brief internal debate as to whether or not to ‘loosen’ it with milk, I decided not to because I didn’t have any ingredients left to start again if I fucked it up. Nope. I just spread it on anyway. It looked a bit flakey. In fact it looked like giant lumps of dandruff. And because fatless sponge has a sort of crumbly crunchy outside it didn’t stick.

Ah well, never mind. Nobody would notice if I decorated it with enough crap. I sprayed it with edible gold paint to give it a nice sheen, looked out the Happy Birthday candle that we light every year, and threw some white chocolate stars on it.

Then I discovered some Halloween icing decorations; pumpkin faces, Frankenstein’s monster faces, an eyeball and two severed fingers. Perfect for McMini then. On they want and hoorah, we were done. After a bit of trouble, I managed to remove the airtight box I keep cakes in from the under the stairs bit of the pantry by using a strange grippy handle thing which has been in the family for years. My mother remembers her grandfather using it to reach for high up blackberries when she was a kid. From an early age I spotted it at my grandparents’ house and have been fascinated with it all my life. When my grandmother died, I inherited this strange thing and I am still fascinated by it.

Sorry, digression there. ‘Cake’ made I put it in the airtight box to have on ‘the day’. Birthdaygeddon dawned and McMini went off to town with a friend and disappeared. On the downside, he did not return at teatime and I was agog to try the cake. On the upside, he has grown out of wanting a party. Eventually texted said friend’s mother at five, and asked her to tell him to come home because I wanted to eat the chuffing cake. He arrived at half past five. On the upside, the cake was delicious and the dandruffy icing turned out to be lumps of crumbly fudge (tablet, basically). The most important thing was that it tasted wonderful. Yeh. Job done I’d say.

Having stuffed ourselves with cake at a point in the day which was, if we were honest with ourselves, a bit close to dinner, McOther got the bar-b-queue on and handed me a bottle of beer and some nuts to enjoy while I was upstairs having a shower and getting into my pyjamas. Yes, I put my pyjamas on at about seven pm because I have come to rather dislike going out in the evening. Well, I am fifty three after all. And I already have arthritis and one replaced knee so I may be even older on paper, so to speak. Not that I was going to have time to enjoy the beer and nuts either, since he told me, cheerfully, that I had five minutes. As I mounted the stairs I took a swig of beer from the bottle.

Big mistake.

You know how the first sip of beer from a bottle causes this foam eruption that just goes on and on and looks as if it’s never going to stop. Yeh, well the bastard thing did that. By the time it had finished bubbling it’s guts onto the stair carpet there was only about half the bottle left. Well fuck. Since I’d been gardening all afternoon I needed that shower. I was stinky and dirty and appeared to have a bad case of greenfly … almost as bad as some of my plants. Three and a half minutes of mopping them with a hanky later the beer stains had disappeared. I belted upstairs and hurled myself into the shower. Sod it, I was going to be late for supper which the cook does not appreciate. Never mind better late than stinky, washed the earth off my legs, feet and hands but didn’t have time to rinse the greenfly infestation out of my hair. Oh well.

McMini’s Donald Trump bun … obviously having a plate like that to put it on helps.

Luckily supper was a bit late so I wasn’t and the McOther was not upset that we’d failed to enjoy his smashing cooking. McMini peeled all the coating off his burger bun and it ended up looking a bit like Donald Trump which amused me. An evening vegetating in front of Montalbano and McMini went off to bed. McOther disappeared upstairs to put his light out and after about twenty minutes I realised he’d done that weird thing blokes do when they just disappear up to bed without telling you and you sit there watching telly for half an hour and then suddenly realise that the rest of the house is dark and you can hear snoring coming from the bedroom.

Realising that it was bed time I set about going to bed when McMini arrived for our evening chat. McMini likes a chat before bed. He arrived with a balloon pump and set about trying to puff me to death, at which point I want and got my balloon pump and before long we were puffing things at one another, or he was trying to puff the birthday cards off the mantelpiece while I puffed at them from the other direction, trying to keep them upright. Standard procedure for us then. McMini doesn’t have a sibling but as McOther pointed out, because I am merely another child, he sort of does. Having finally persuaded McMini that bed and sleep would be a good idea, I got to bed at about midnight.

First thing this morning, McOther headed off to car boots. I woke up and discovered that I could hear strange thumping sounds. I couldn’t work out if it was the cat in his ‘bedroom’ which is the room below our en suite, or McMini who is a demi-floor up from us. Our house is the same height all round but there are two rooms on top of each other at the front and three rooms on top of each other at the back, which is weird but just the way it is. Seeing as McOther was not there I indulged my Chaucerian side and ‘lette flye a fart’. Unfortunately, even when I am alone the sound of farts makes me giggle and McMini heard and appeared with a build-your-own hydraulic hand model that he’d been given for his birthday, the previous day. Yes, it seems he had built it over night.

‘Have you slept?’ I asked him blearily.

‘Oh yes, but I woke up at 4 am and was bored so and built this.’

Gads. Four am. Urrgh. Clearly McMini is like his father in that he has never really got the hang of going to sleep, or at least, both seem to be pathologically unable to go back to sleep if they wake up in the middle of the night. Me, I grew up in a boy’s school so I have no trouble with this. Mind you, not being able to sleep again after being woken up would have resulted in something like the Russian Sleep Experiment for anyone living there. As it was, I learned to sleep through the sound of fireworks – but not bombs, it seems I can differentiate between the two – drunken shouting, loud music and the fire alarm – I will be burned in my sleep if ever a building I’m in catches fire and there’s no one else with me to hear the alarm and drag me out of bed.

McMini was very much awake and ‘tested’ the robot hand by throwing a ball at me with it, stroking my face with it and generally being an evil troll. And now we are just on the brink of going out for a walk, except by the time I’ve found the pictures and phaffed with the stupid keywords, it will probably be evening and we’ll probably have been for the walk before you see this.

In other news …

HUP Swishy new logo.

The results of the K’Barthan invective quiz are in. Mwahahahrgh! Boy oh boy this was close. There were two run-away winners but the rest of the vote was comprehensively split between about six of them. Here are the results:

  1. Smeck: Out-and-out winner this one with a huge 40% of the votes. Smeck is a word I made up that would sound a bit like fuck but not be as rude. I suspect I now need to think of something along the lines of Red Dwarf’s, ‘Better dead than smeg!’ Only in K’Barthan, using smeck.
  2. Arnold’s Y-fronts! Not a huge surprise this one because lots of characters use it. It received 35% of the votes.
  3. There are two in third position: Arnold’s conkers! and Arnold’s underpants! Hmm … do I detect a theme here? These two picked up 30% of the votes.
  4. Fourth equal – because my list making thing can’t cope with jumping to five the way I’m meant to after a tie – with 25% of the votes, we have: Arnold’s bum! Smecking Arnold! Arnold’s smecking sweaty … and a suddenly clean, Arnold’s eyeballs! and Arnold’s Armpits!
  5. Close behind these we have: Arnold’s earwax, Arnold’s toe jam! and Arnold’s plums.

There seems to be a theme here, which is that anything to do with bottoms and undergarments or the word ‘Smeck’ is a goer, along with dodgy effluvia such as toe jam and ear wax. I did write my books for people like me. Maybe there are more of them than I thought.

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Filed under General Wittering, Mary Fails at Modern Life

Floating aimlessly

Yeh. Welcome to my world, the world of what might be the most unproductive human being on earth.

Shit! A squirrel has just run under my chair. Sorry where was I? Apart from outside, I mean. No squirrels indoors at this point, I’m glad to say. Ah yeh. Being the world’s most unproductive human. Not true. I do understand that. It just feels like it sometimes. I need to relax and take a chill pill.

Well, I sort of have. It’s half term this week so I have put writing aside and instead have been Humaning. I enjoy Humaning from time to time, especially when I seem to be particularly devoid of any creative inspiration, as I am this week. By doing nothing on my writing stuff, it’s not as if I’m doing any damage. I did get my ten minutes of writing in on Saturday, Sunday and Monday last week, though. Woot.

As I type this I am sitting outside. Yeh we did that didn’t we? Anyway, it’s cloudy but warm so I am stolidly refusing to acknowledge that it is, actually, beginning to rain. Hopefully it’s just going to be a bit of gentle spattering that passes harmlessly by rather than a full-on, race-for-the-door, deluge. Maybe that’s where the squirrel was going then. Somewhere dry. Hmm.

It being half term for us this week, we went to see the in-laws after nearly a year and a half of their being ill, us being ill, COVID19 or Nicola not letting us in because we have English Covid Cooties. It was wonderful to see them again and check that they are OK. They have a fair bit to contend with but seem to be doing alright, which was a relief. And I think their finally being able to see McOther and McMini after so long must have perked them up a bit.

It was a short trip because we didn’t want to knacker them out. The weather was kind to us and we went to Kelso, where there is a gorgeous house that used to belong to the family that started Pringle. We went for a walk round the lake while McMum and McDad sat and relaxed on a bench. The McOther and I went back a second time because I’d left my glasses there – I’d put them in my glasses case and put on my prescription sunglasses. Then the box had fallen out of my jacket pocket. On the upside, though we did get home to discover I had not brought my specs with me, no water closets were involved. I did find them straight away upon my return too. Someone had left the case in a little hole in the seat, end up, so that it was really obvious and easy to find. Bless ’em.

Impending week of oops-I’ve-lost-my-glasses-and-I-only-have-these-prescription-sunglasses Roy Orbison-ness avoided? Check.

It was a gorgeous house. Big, but not massive. I could imagine that if you were as rich as Croesus you could run a really happy team of staff there. It was a lovely spot, with a very pleasant and peaceful feel to it, which was unexpected. The volunteers gradually doing it up maintain the grounds and there were beds of flowers, not corporate planting but sympathetic stuff that went with it all so well. Cracking job all round. There was a lake too … cf pics I took, shown below.

When we got back, after a very rainy Friday, we spent Saturday with some friends in a cottage they’d hired Burnham Market. We passed a beautiful field of blue flax on the way, which I failed spectacularly to photograph. I also failed to capture a record of the sign to a place called Pudding Norton.

When I was a kid we used to holiday there and the ridiculous place names used to make us laugh. Before he came back to Sussex and met Mum, Dad taught at a school in Holt. North Norfolk was a popular holiday destination, not just because of the scenery but because Dad and Mum could visit all his old friends. Usually it was a bit like an episode of The Road Trip, in that Dad was funny, and a great mimic, and Mum was just plain funny. The friends; likewise. The conversation was always absolutely bats and normally involved Dad or one of his mates doing impressions, be-it Dad’s famous impression of a teacher from his school days at Lancing, who had a wooden leg, dropping dead in assembly one morning, or um … other stuff. All were very wicked and probably quite un-PC except they were always delivered with such obvious fondness for the unfortunate victim. Thinking about it, looking at the way they took the piss out of one another, I doubt the objects of their ribaldry would have batted an eyelid if they’d been around to see it. They were probably similar.

Wells next the sea at high tide.

At some point we usually went to Stiffkey salt marsh for the day – at low tide – and walked four half an hour or so to find the sea. There’d be indentations in the sand full of seawater that had been warmed to bath water levels by the sun, there would usually be a seal pup or two and sometime fossils. Finally, after walking for half an hour or so, we’d find the sea and skinny dip in the ice cold water, an event which usually involved a lot of screaming.

This Saturday, visiting our friends, we went past Holkolm Hall, a place of many happy memories, and then all of us went crabbing at Wells Next The Sea. Well, the kids crabbed, we walked along the prom and back. It made me smile to remember the happy times I’d spent up that way as a kid. But it was also lovely to think that I was walking somewhere where my father had undoubtedly walked before he’d ever fallen in love with my mother, in a part of the country where he had been very happy as a young man … until someone broke his heart. That’s why he came back to Sussex; new job, new start.

The architecture and stuff up there is so different that it really is like visiting another country, you know, northern France or something. It reminded me of Valerie Sur Somme, right down to a similar little train! So that was a bit of a gas.

It was gloriously sunny, but with a cool breeze off the sea that took it from a bit much in the heat department, to just right.

Now it’s back to Real Life.

Sea rowers at Wells Next The Sea.

Since Lock Down is ending … supposedly … it seems there’s so much to do. I sat down in a free moment to write this yesterday but realised that I needed to sort out a method of giving away Unlucky Dip in Audio because I can’t set the price to free at all the retailers, although I can set it for 99c so I’ve done that. Then this morning, I realised that I’d forgotten to publicise the fact that my standalone ebook, Escape From B-Movie Hell, is at the promotional price of 99c or pence or whatever, this month. Tomorrow I also have a newsletter to write which will take forever because everything uses blocks and the blocks interface takes about forty seconds to a minute to load.

Fine, roll your eyes and tell me I should learn some patience. But actually that’s a massive time suck. Added to that, doing stupid blocks on here, as I am now, when our internet connection drops, which it does, frequently, it’s likely I will lose it all. Sure I do save from time to time but originally, when the internet dropped and the annoying stupid little circle thing started going round and round on the screen, I could just do select all and copy everything I had written. That way, if I had lost it, I could just cut and paste it all back in and save it when the internet resurrected itself. Can I do that now? Can I bollocks? Stupid knobbing blocks are set up so the CtrlA – or CommandA on an I thing – only saves one paragraph; the one I’m actually editing. How is that in any way helpful?

Creative mojo, a fickle and fleeting thing.

Worse, if you look underneath at the code, it’s exactly the same as the stuff I used to get when I typed it into an editor. Seriously there’s no reason for this blocks shit other than to make it really and I mean REALLY hard for people. Likewise, Mailerlite … I moved to them from Mail Chimp and it was like a breath of fresh air. I clicked to edit an email and up it popped. It was blocks but it was fast. No waiting ages for it to crank up before you could edit. Then you just dropped your block onto the page and wrote in it.

Now? Nah. You have a preview pane and you have to do a paragraph at a time in the side bar.

Just in case that’s not irritating enough there are several parts to the side bar for each block template and there used to be a scroll bar so you could move up and down. That’s now gone. So you get the thing where you’re editing a paragraph and the bit that lets you do bold or alter the justification isn’t in frame. So you have to click on the edge and use the arrow keys on your keyboard to make it move. But they don’t always work because if you click into a box by mistake it just thinks you’re editing that and doesn’t budge. What was wrong with the bloody scroll bar ffs? It didn’t take up any space but it meant I could do those edits way faster. Is this finger trouble? Am I such a moronic twat that I’ve somehow removed the scroll bar from my option and if so why the fuck is there no easy and obvious way to put it back?

At least with windows when I do that thing on the keyboard and the box suddenly appears saying, ‘do you want to turn on sticky keys?’ I can shout, ‘No! No! I fucking don’t!’ and click on cancel. Clearly I’ve borked something the same way but there was no, ‘Are you sure you want to remove this really useful scroll bar that you actually rely on rather heavily?’ box. It just disappeared! Poof! Gone.

Bastards!

Then there’s the fact that fucking Linked In randomly disconnects itself so when I come to publish it tells me I have to go refresh my connection to Linked In. Every. Fucking. Time. Why, Linked in, you total and utter cockwomble! Why? This is total bollocks and phaff that I do not need in my life. I’ve connected you to my blog because I want the two of you to be fucking connected. Randomly disconnecting yourself is not looking after my security. It is bing a fucking pain in the arse. If I wanted to disconnect you from my blog, I would disconnect you from my blog. I haven’t ergo I do not chuffing want to. How hard is that to understand, you absolute fucking muppet?

Yeh, I can imagine what anyone normal and sensible reading this is saying now. This stuff is chicken shit and doesn’t make any difference. Except trust me, it does.

Don’t believe me?

OK, here are some Real Life examples. When I drive to Mum’s on a Wednesday, it takes around two and a quarter to two and a half hours. In lock down, it took two hours. There was no difference in speed. I drive at 3,000 revs which is usually around 70mph give or take a bit – it varies a little with the weather, the gear I’m in and the speed limit, clearly. The reduced journey time was simply caused by the fact that I wasn’t dropping down to 57 as a lorry pulled into my path, or proceeding through the only two miles on the M11 where lorries aren’t allowed to overtake at 57mph, because some absolute bell end in one lorry was overtaking another gargantuan twatwank in another one, and neither of them was giving way to the other. Or, it could be that I wasn’t following a wide load down the double track bit of the M11 with a weaving escort vehicle that wouldn’t let anyone pass for health and safety reasons – even though there was room to put a couple of bloody buses past it side by side without causing the buses or the load any problems. Let alone my stupidly tiny, tiny car.

Likewise, many years ago, I used to commute to Birmingham from Ely. It used to take about two hours or thereabouts going at 70mph most of the way. Limited to 60mph, running-in my brand new Lotus, it took me about twenty five minutes less. Yes even running in at 60mph all the way, it was quicker in a Lotus than in a Triumph Spitfire going 70mph. Why? because those people who sit in the fast lane drifting along for miles and miles saw me coming and actually got out of the chuffing way. It’s the acceleration and deceleration time that drives the journey time up, so the smoother your journey the quicker.

This is not new. There’s a whole fitness and training strategy based on the little things, I believe. I think it was the Team GB cycling trainer who worked out that small things added up. An uncomfortable night with less sleep might make an athlete tired and not quite at their best, it might only make a couple of hundredths of a second to their time but in the velodrome, that might be the difference between winning or losing. So he hit on the idea that if he made sure that all these, seemingly irrelevant, pernickety things were right, the effect on overall performance might be quite substantial. Needless to say, it was. Suddenly Team GB were winning medals.

It’s a genius idea and over the course of my years doing motorway journeys I’ve begun to think that there is definitely something in it. It’s not about whether you blat along in the fast lane at 90mph, it’s about whether other motorists think you will and get out of your way so you can do a solid 3,000 revs all the time. That makes a huge difference to petrol consumption as well. It’s also whether there are a small enough number of other motorists for you to be able to drive smoothly at that speed. And of course, constantly standing on the anchors because a lorry has pulled out in front of you makes for inefficient acceleration and deceleration time. I suppose it’s only natural, there are many proponents of the ten minutes a day fitness regime. I did try doing a 6 minute, high intensity interval thing once a day for a couple of weeks and there was a noticeable drop in my resting pulse so I think there’s definitely something in that approach.

Similarly the ten minutes a day approach to writing, in the last year that I was able to keep it up consistently, 2019, it netted me a stupid amount of words at a point when they weren’t really coming that easily. OK, so, in 2020 it was different. I managed 55k in a couple of months as I changed my 30k short into Too Good To Be True. But that was because there was zero stress on the horizon. Right now I’m back to stressy hormonal can’t think straight so the ten minutes a day is a good discipline to resurrect.

So where am I going with this? Well, two ways, I guess. First I’m saying that the old adage that you should break a huge job into tiny pieces and deal with each of those pieces one at a time is great advice. But conversely it means that each of these tiny, pissy things that are sent to try us also add up; to something big and, in my case, cataclysmic. In lock down, all the pissy administrative shit went away. I couldn’t have a smear test, eye test, dental check or boob x-ray so I didn’t have to remember to book them, note the correct time/date and get to them. We weren’t going away so I didn’t have to remember to book the cat into kennels. I didn’t have to do social things which involved me remembering to shave my legs or find something that made me look slightly less like a parked zeppelin draped in camouflage material than usual. OK so I still had to make sure I did the wages and fix whatever the latest thing was that had broken at Mum’s house, from a distance, but that’s alright because there was only the one life I had to sort out: hers. Mine was on hold, as were McOther’s and McMini’s so no organising McMini’s bloody PE kit either.

The second point I wanted to make was that sometimes, you just have to let it all go. There is shit I have to do right now. And I have McMini’s birthday coming up which will involve doing stuff like making a cake. And I have some more boring pissy administria to do so I decided that I’d take two weeks out, one before and one after half term, to do it. It’s not going badly. I’ve signed up for too many promos so it will take me all day to sort out the mailing tomorrow. But I have planned time for it. After that there will be more humaning, which will be fun, and a bit more admin, which won’t. But if I can crack through it diligently enough then the week afterwards, with any luck, I may be able to do a bit of writing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go talk to McOther about booking the cat into kennels … while I remember.

Award-winning fiction for a snip!

Escape From B-Movie Hell is down to 99c or p or whatever it is you do instead of cents or pence. In case you have forgotten, or for those of you who don’t know about it, here’s the blurb:

Escape From B-Movie Hell

Escape From B’Movie Hell

First contact, in films, was never like this …

If you asked Andi Turbot whether she had anything in common with Flash Gordon she’d say no, emphatically. Saving the world is for dynamic, go-ahead, leaders of men and while it would be nice to see a woman getting involved for a change, she believes she could be the least well equipped being in her Galaxy for the job.

Then her best friend, Eric, reveals that he is an extra terrestrial. He’s not just any ET either. He’s Gamalian: seven-foot, lobster-shaped and covered in marmite-scented goo. Just when Andi’s getting used to that he tells her about the Apocalypse and really ruins her day.

The human race will perish unless Eric’s Gamalian superiors step in. Abducted and trapped on an alien ship, Andi must convince the Gamalians her world is worth saving. Or escape from their clutches and save it herself.

If you’re interested you can find a page of links to the main retail sites here.

If you are not interested, do feel free to share it with your friends, family, the postman, the bloke who sometimes collects the empty cups at your local coffee shop and anyone else you can think of to spam, because it isn’t spam from you because it’s not your book.

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Filed under General Wittering

Dementia redux; rinse and repeat …

It’s a bit of a mixed bag this week. On the one hand, life is getting slowly back to normal, people are allowed out to visit other people and I have been visiting my significant family member: my mum, for two weeks now. On the other, I’m gutted. It probably says a lot about me that I am actually sad that lock down is ending. I’ve enjoyed the absence of traffic noise, the friendly waves at people, and the laughter as we try to make crossing the road to avoid each other look a bit less pointed! I’ve enjoyed the walk every day and I absolutely loved the bike ride I had round town along smooth deserted roads rather than squeezed against the kerb, buffeted by endless streams of resentful traffic.

OK so the lappers/boy racers in their souped up 500cc insurance punishment vehicles were still driving round, and round, and round, and round, and the blokes on the big bikes that corner like a waterbed and have an engine note that sounds exactly how I imagine a whale fart does, but everyone else had stayed at home.

There was a day, a week and a half ago, where the traffic picked up again and I noticed this horrible petrol smell in the air. After wondering what it was, all morning, I realised it was traffic fumes. It smells of traffic fumes where I live, the entire time, and I never even noticed that until it went away for a while and came back.

The pace of life in lockdown has been slower. I’ve enjoyed the company of my husband and son and having time to write. There is much admin I need to do but I can’t because it’s lockdown. Hoorah. Next week I’ll have to find some bloke to come and look at a wall at my mum’s, sort out a donation to the place where Dad’s memorial service was held and re-arrange shots for my cat, my and my son’s dental appointments and a whole host of other jizz which will suck in my time. On the up side, hopefully my writer’s circle will be able to meet for our next get together. That will be wonderful as we are, all three, vulnerable, so it will be great to get together again. It was also lovely to have a socially distanced encounter with friends last night.

That said, I think part of the slight feeling of malaise that rested on the beginning of this week was about Dad. You see, after a year, when someone dies, you have a year’s mind. Which just means you think of them in church. Dad’s was last Sunday. I wasn’t in church and that was a bit sad. So sad that it caught me completely off guard. As I sat in the garden live streaming a service from somewhere, I burst into tears. After a while it wore off but I never shrugged off the sadness throughout that day. I should be remembering Dad, like properly, with prayers and things. In a church. But that was probably as much about how important a weekly bout of quiet time interspersed with the singing of hymns at an anti social volume is to my mental equilibrium.

Later that day, we had a zoom chat with friends which, strangely, left me feeling even more isolated. I’m not sure why, and then when I hit the shower, I started blubbing like the giant girl I am and couldn’t stop. I’m a firm believer in letting these things ride their course so I let it all hang out for a while and finally when the flow appeared to have slowed up enough, I put my jammies on and sat on the bed.

Vimy Ridge 100 years on

There’s usually a reason for outbursts like this so I like to try and work out a plausible explanation. Understanding it helps. It’s not going to stop weird stuff like that from happening, but if I can put my finger on a bona fine reason, it’s less scary. Partly it was a simple case of missing Dad. The further away I am from the well-meaning but cantankerous, Father Jack-like gentleman suffering from Alzheimer’s the closer I become to Original Dad. I shouldn’t say that both Dads were real, but one was the original and the other was like bad archeology. A wild guesstimate of the man constructed from the things that were left.

But the other thing I was missing was my mum. I realised that I was mourning for her as much as for dad. Lively, smart funny Mum, who read all my books, who knew all the family history, who could cook better than most of the restaurants I’ve visited. Mum who had a garden full of people, ‘you can’t cut the head off that, it’s Betty Leigh-Pollet’ she used to say when Dad demanded that a bush in front of the window be cut down so he could see more from his seat in the drawing room.

Now, on bad days, Mum has reached a similar stage of anchoring herself to the TV, as if it will keep her alignment with space and time. She now sits and gazes out of the window. She has issued orders and Betty Leigh-Pollet’s head has been cut off without a second thought, and ‘Betty’ looks none the worse for her experience. Mum’s forgotten who all the plants are. Sometimes she remembers, other times, only that she got them from somewhere, sometimes she’ll say that she got them from … ‘that nice woman, you know the one, lives up the road, had a husband called Roger who dropped dead in the garden.’ Sometimes I’ll be able to tell her, on the back of that, who she got them from, other times, I won’t.

She’s forgotten the things she couldn’t do. She’s back to fretting about earthing up the potatoes but at the same time, understands she can’t do it. Not because she’s remembered that she isn’t supposed to be digging like that, but because she still remembers that the potatoes are in a part of the garden that’s out of the range of her emergency help button.

‘How old am I?’ she asked me the other day.

‘Eighty seven,’ I said.

‘Good heavens! Am I really, I can’t be can I? What year is it?’

‘It’s 2020, Mum.’

‘Goodness! I thought we were in the 1990s.’

Mum hasn’t gone at all, she’s still very much as she was, but the changes are beginning to take place. Last week she told me she’s voted conservative all her life, she has no recollection of the fact she’s voted green in every election since about 1996. It’s weird. And it makes conversation interesting because I never quite know which Mum I’m going to get, the sharp as a whip, switched on Mum or the one who is convinced she and Dad bought their house for £40 in 1986 (they bought it for a lot more than that in 1972) and thinks I lived with her and my uncle during the war.

Sometimes, she’s more than much-muddled, as she calls herself – or very much-muddled on a bad day. She’s started having strange ideas, bizarre theories. Suddenly, after telling us, for years, that she’d like to stay in her house until she dies but that, after she’s gone, though it’ll make her sad, she appreciates we may have to sell it, she’s started talking about changing her will so the house is left to her oldest grandson because, ‘it must stay in the family, it must be protected.’ The point is moot, since selling it isn’t an issue and anyway, she ordered me to activate the power of attorney over her finances some time ago, which I did, because no way is she in control of enough faculties to change her will. But it’s kind of strange.

She’s been telling me she wants to take on an extra gardener because the lovely couple who are doing the garden for her at the moment, ‘can’t cope.’ One minute she is telling me the garden looks better than it ever has, the next she’s telling me that the drive must be tarmaced because it has grass growing up the middle. I did finally get to the bottom of this. She is worried she’ll die before her current gardening project is complete. It’s been delayed by lockdown and although she understands about lockdown and what it is, she’s kind of forgotten why the delay has happened and how to apply it to the garden.

Interestingly, she has been a bit more imperious with her team, too. Apparently there’s a lot more, ‘I want’ and a lot less, ‘could you please …’ I don’t know what to make of that. What I have ascertained is that she’s nervous, in some ways, but not afraid to die, and not afraid of dying alone. She’s worried about dying before the garden is ‘finished’. Although it looks pretty fabulous to me.

We’ve had the conversation about coronavirus. If she gets it she’d like to stay at home but she appreciates that she a) can’t look after herself and b) can’t expect others to put themselves at risk to do so … not even my brother and I, because we have small children who need their parents to stay alive. So she’d have to go to hospital and die alone. She’s totally alright with that. ‘I have a faith and John’ (Dad) ‘is waiting for me.’ It’s still a grim conversation to have but the point here is, that she can think stuff through, a lot of stuff, but not all of it.

She’s OK really, so what was I crying about? Well, it’s like this.

When your loved one gets dementia there’s a horrible dichotomy. On one hand you don’t want them to die because a lot of them is still there and you love them dearly and you want to spend as much time as possible with them while you can. On the other, you want their suffering to end (and yours, watching them suffer) and the only way that can happen is if they snuff it. I don’t want Mum to die. We still have wonderful conversations. I want that to continue. But at the same time, I’m exhausted, so exhausted with looking after Dad, her and Dad and now her. I’ve driven to Sussex every week for five years now. It’s nothing compared to what other people do, living alone with a profoundly demented person, being their sole carer for years with no let up, no break. It’s no surprise that, in couples where one is ill and needs cared for, the ‘well’ one nearly always dies first. But the fact is, for all the knowledge that I have it easy compared to most people in this position, I, me, find it hard. What’s more, my struggle is no less valid for being easier or harder than that of others, just as theirs is no less valid for being different to mine.

Another thing that may have hit me broadside is my position along the arc so to speak. You see, there are certain stages of the dementia journey.

Stage one is the place where your loved one is a bit forgetful, but functioning pretty much as they always have mentally. Stage one is the one where they suddenly forget the recipe for something they’ve made every week since you’ve known them. Or you get a all in church and rush out to find Mum calling in a panic on someone else’s mobile phone to say that she can’t remember the burglar alarm code. This is the stage when you can tell yourself it isn’t anything odd, it’s just ageing, a slight aberration.

When they are in stage one, you bury your head in the sand. It will be OK. It will be a long time before it gets really bad. They will die before they hit stage two. But deep down, even though you are hoping and denying your arse off, you know it’s more than a bit of vagueness.

Stage two is the place where your loved one starts to be a so forgetful it might be dangerous. In Mum’s case it was Christmas 2015, when one of the people who used to come and sit with dad arrived to find both my parents sound asleep in the drawing room and the turkey giblets, in a pan, in the kitchen, on fire. Mum had put them on to make stock and forgotten about them.

The worst part of that, as far as she was concerned, was that she really liked that saucepan. The lovely man who looks after their garden managed to clean it so it could still be used but something had happened to its bottom and it was never the same again.

This is the worst stage, in some ways, the one where you know they need outside help but they refuse to accept it. When you can see the storm clouds gathering but don’t know when or where the rain is going to fall, only that it’s coming. They want to remain independent and you want to let them for as long as possible but there is the very real chance that if you don’t get someone in to check up on them several times a day they will die in a gas explosion, a roaring inferno of their own making … etc … In Mum’s case we were unsure if it was a kind of senior baby brain from dealing with Dad, or a problem she had. Either way she was going to die from exhaustion looking after Dad or they were both going to die from her own hand from left on gas or something similar.

Stage two is the hardest part, where you have to convince the person with dementia to get someone in to help before the shit hits the fan. I failed, the shit did, indeed, hit the fan. I had to drive to Sussex at four am (the second of three midnight mercy dashes). I had one hour’s sleep and then I had to look after both parents, who could do little more than sleep and ask for food at various intervals (like two baby birds). My parents ate a lot of meals too, breakfast at nine, lunch at one, tea at four – usually approximately thirty minutes after the last of lunch had been cleared away – and supper at seven. Then, I had to spend two nights sleeping with my Dad while Mum was in hospital, which meant waking up ever 40 minutes to make sure he got to the loo and back without falling. We had some lovely chats and he was so sweet, but I was dead on my feet by the time I handed over to my brother!

We got someone in after a week to live with them. That’s when the extent of Mum’s dementia became apparent. She had enormous trouble adjusting to a situation she’d have breezed through even six months before, because she was already suffering from memory problems of her own. One of the things I particularly remember was her absolute adamance that it was the Carer who had burned the saucepan rather than her. She berated them for putting things away in the wrong place and not ‘where they’d always lived’ but ‘where they’d always lived’ was a fluid concept depending on whether she was in the 1980s, 1990s 2000s or 2010s in her head.

Stage two though, you can still convince yourself that they’ll die before you lose them.

Stage three is when you realise that the person you love, who has dementia, is leaving you. It’s when you begin to understand that they are not going to die before you lose them. Because since you’ve already watched it happen to your father, sparing your mother would be far too merciful.

Stage three is when you realise that yes, you are going to have to walk beside them. Every. Horrific. Step. Because there’s nothing else you can do for them. And it’s the point when you realise how much, exactly, that is going to hurt you.

It’s the, ‘father if it is possible, let this cup pass from me,’ moment.

That’s what I was having on Sunday.

Stage three is when the person starts to become a bit different, they suddenly like different things or their version of events is suddenly wildly at variance with the real one they remembered. I hate pistachio nuts. But I thought you liked them. No, I’ve always hated them. This after them receiving a bag with pure delight two week’s previously and then opening the bag so you can eat them together like naughty children raiding the larder before lunch (although that’s Dad rather than Mum). They may cling to a couple of stories they remember and repeat them again and again. I have a couple of similar ones that I always add to the ones Mum tells. Do you remember when we did …? Oh yes that was hilarious and thingwot says you did it on x occasion too. Dear thingwot. Yeh, thingwot is lovely, cue long succession of stories about thingwot. That kind of stuff. It works a treat and always gets us laughing, which is brilliant. I thoroughly recommend it as a technique!

This is the place where you discover disconnects of which you weren’t aware: that your loved one thinks you grew up together, for example. That’s lovely because it means they see you as part of the things that make up their entire being. But tricky when you’re trying to pretend you remember what your great grandfather, who died well before you were born, was actually like. This is the stage when you have to face up to the fact that they are not going to die before it gets any worse, that you need to grasp the nettle, get care for them, sort out a lasting power of attorney for their health and finances and generally prepare for the total loss of marbles that lies ahead. This, with Mum, has been so much easier because we were able to keep on a lot of the care Dad had. And while Dad was a wanderer, Mum seems to be more of a sitter. She likes to go out into the garden and potter in the greenhouse, but she doesn’t get agitated and wander off, not yet anyway (hopefully never).

Mum is in completely denial. The doctor is too. He is prepared to get her evaluated but would like to start any investigation with blood tests. She refuses to have them. I’d like to know what type of dementia she has, but if giving it a name scares her, I’ll leave it. I think she’s a bit sort of … well it’s all dementia, who cares which type I have.

Stage three, and usually, you will still be in denial at this point, still thinking that life will be kind and the person suffering will carry on like this for years without any further deterioration and then die a good and happy death, before it gets any worse.

You will be wrong.

This is where Mum is now, I think.

What does it feel like? A bit less scary but still fairly horrible. I know I can do it because I’ve done it before. I know what the stages are but actually, I don’t know how this is going to take Mum. Everyone is different and she is definitely different from Dad. On the up side, she seems much happier and much more ready to accept that she has a terrible memory or sometimes, if required, that it’s us who are all mad, not her. Dad, on the other hand, never swallowed that lie. It would have been a lot easier if he had.

But even though it’s a little kinder, a little easier, it’s so hard. I’m tired now. So, so, tired. For a while there, I’ve had a window on what it’s like not to worry much and an excuse not to take any action (thank you covid for that small mercy). Certainly this time, I seem to have switched off and retreated under a big layer of scar tissue. That’s probably not very good for my mental health but shucks, whatever gets you through right? And it seems to be moving faster with Mum than it is with Dad and I guess that’s … kind of … a mercy.

Stage four. This is where there is now something unequivocally, definitely, bizarre about your loved one. This is where most dementia patients disappear from social life. Usually it’s because they start doing something embarrassing. But this is where socialising them can really help them and keep them enjoying life. Because they will be enduring every last minute of this horrific end. It’s your job to make it as pleasant as possible for everyone involved; them and you. It’s amazing what other people will put up with for the sake of the person they knew before. Try not to be afraid. Many people will understand, many bar maids will laugh along as your father asks them to marry him, and will join in the joke when you explain that he can’t because he’s not a Mormon and already engaged to all of his carers.

This is where you start getting some places used to the dementia sufferer and working out who can’t cope and who doesn’t mind. In our case, the local pub, the local shop and the local church were all brilliant with Dad as was his brother. Doubtless they will be with Mum, too. It’s really important that the dementia sufferer can still socialise as far as is possible, even when the disease finally claims their faculties. Far more people will be kind and gentle than will be shitty. Also, this is the stage where you need to try and evaluate what is and isn’t possible with their particular methods of dealing with life.

They may not sleep well, or at all and that will make their symptoms way, way worse. They may wander at night. Dad did both, although he wasn’t mobile enough to wander so he just used to have a jolly good go.

You might see some of the unacceptable shouty stuff coming out at this point. Not much, just enough to be hurtful. I remember Dad shouting at me to hurry up when I changed his nappy and also getting massively angry at having to wait for a crepe flambé. Cardinal sin committed there, no non-stick pan which meant I should have cooked all the pancakes first and then done the sauce and flambéing. I remember being so upset because he was still quite normal so this sudden total melt down over waiting a few minutes for a pudding was inexplicable – not to mention painful.

If you see any behaviour like this, it means you’ve reached the point where you need decide how much of that sort of stuff you can cope with. If you know you can’t take that, 24/7 now’s the time to scout out a good home and get the dementia sufferer used to the idea of going there. It is wise to choose a home ahead of time, wise but incredibly hard. But if they turn shouty then, once the anger kicks in you will NOT be able to look after them at home.

Brighton’s over there somewhere

This is the stage where they may go from being absolutely OK with the idea of dying to looking at death the way a small child would. This is also the stage where you need to accept that they will not be mercifully taken before the disease takes every last vestige of their dignity because that only happens to other lucky bastards. But it’s also a stage where, at the start, you may not yet be certain where the disease will go. Not everyone gets shouty or starts telling nine year old girls they’d like to fuck them. But now is the time you have to accept and plan for the fact it may happen.

Stage five is the one where it ends. They end up in bed with people coming to turn them once in a while and spoon food into their mouths or in a home. This is the stage where Dad came back to us because suddenly, he got some sleep. By the end of his spell in hospital he genuinely could have come home to us. Except he couldn’t, because he’d have stopped sleeping again and it would have all been rinse and repeat. So he want to a really lovely home, but a home nonetheless. He knew where he was and more to the point, where he wasn’t.

The hardest thing is that, throughout all the stages, you will find vestiges of the person’s pre dementia personality. You will never lose your ability to love and value them as a person. You will never ‘get used to it’. It will never stop hurting. Even though there will be times when they say really horrible, hurtful things you will keep loving them.

I’m not looking forward to stages four and five with Mum, but at least I have more of an idea what to expect. Who knows, maybe the disease will be kinder to her than it was to Dad. I can hope, can’t I?

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Filed under General Wittering

Today, a bunny thing happened …

This week, I had intended to write a deep and poignant post about stages along the dementia path. But then stuff happened. So, instead I’m going to share another slice of my completely bat shit crazy life. Something connected with my oh-ho-ho so clever pun in the title there (phnark).

First up, I invented a joke. Who do mice worship? Cheesus. This is, possibly, the only funny joke I’ve ever thought of, and probably ever will so enjoy it while you can.

Next, ACX, which publishes audiobooks on Audible. Jeez but seriously? What a chuffing shower. Talk about arse doesn’t know what the elbow’s doing. Seriously, total, epic big-company style fuckwittery. They used to approve audiobooks by listening to them, which is commendable, but takes ages. I think they still do but they have an autovetter as well, now, that saves them a lot of time. There was a big surge in audio submissions at the end of last year apparently, and basically, they were swamped.

Friends submitting books early December were only having them put on sale in late February/early March. One of the biggest reasons I published non-exclusively with them is because I looked at them and I just thought … do I really want to rely on these insane nutters for all my audiobook income? And the immediate answer was no. Lucky because they removed the key benefit of going all-in just after I uploaded my first book with them – on a non-exclusive deal. Phew.

Anyway, the issue is that I submitted four audiobooks which are in a series. The audiobooks were submitted in order one, two, three, four in the hope that they would appear on the market in that same order. Did they? Of course not. Book two appeared first and then, worse, some poor bugger bought one – they’re going to be well confused, unless it’s Gareth’s mum (my mum wouldn’t be up to that kind of thing) but Gareth doesn’t think so.

Anyway, I wrote to ACX help, you can’t reach that from the UK by the way, the help links just pipe you through to sign up to audible, but some friends in the US and Australia shared the web address. I wrote and explained that the books need to be read in order and asked if there was any chance they could hurry up book one. I received a boilerplate reply saying that they’d look into it but that book one would probably go live before they came back with an answer. The best way of saying ‘we’ll investigate this when hell freezes over’ I’ve come across.

Well done ACX! Mwahahahargh!

OK so maybe I’m being harsh, the (possibly) person or (probably) bot replying might have made some sort of effort. Who knows, but the result of my enquiry after the status of book one was the rapid release of book four. Mwahahahahrgh!

What cockwomblery is this? I thought, but give them some time. Maybe the first book will appear next.

Sure enough ACX did put another of the books on sale that very same day, can you guess which one? Yes! That’s right. Book three! Mwahahahahrgh! Book one, which was submitted before all of them, remains stolidly ‘in review’ at the moment. Gareth’s reaction, ‘that is mad in so many ways’ pretty much sums it up.

Writing has been a bit on the back burner this week, although I have written about 6,000 words because I know exactly what’s happening so I can dash off a thousand in a few ten minute stints here and there. Also did the first Sussex trip for nine weeks, which was lovely in most ways and a little difficult in others. I will be taking McMini next week, which we are all looking forward to. McMini lost a bit of focus on his school work recently. Got a sucked into his gaming. The school raised concerns so we’ve been liaising with them since. He’s been really good about catching up. It’s half term this week and I think he has a couple of assignments left to do but otherwise, he’s nearly back on track, which is brilliant. But it does mean we’ve been spending a lot more time checking his work over with him and ensuring it’s all done. He responds much better to hearing and seeing someone explain a concept rather than reading it … like me bless him. We’ve also been distracting him from his screen so it’s been good to spend more time with him.

On Thursday, after he’d finished his lessons, he came through to the kitchen and after a bit of chatting we decided we’d go for a walk. Off we went and half way round our usual circuit McMini asked if we could take a different path and explore, so we did, ending up on a really lovely cycle/foot path through the countryside – even if it was a bit close to the A14. It came out on a road I know well and I worked out we could do a loop back home. Having decided to do this we set off, onwards, when I noticed a black rabbit calmly munching grass in broad daylight on the verge.

‘Uh-oh, looks like someone’s rabbit has got out,’ I said, making to walk on.

‘Mum! We can’t leave it. Remember when we lost our cat, remember how horrible it was, there will be people looking for him.’

‘Well … we can’t catch him,’ I said, dubiously. ‘Tell you what then, let’s ring the vet.’

Our vet was on another call and anyway, I knew they were only taking emergency calls and that they were well busy – we’d walked past the surgery and seen that the car park was hooching with folks and pets, all emergencies, waiting to be seen. So I rang another vet. They said to ring the RSPCA. I found a local rep but the number went to voicemail so I rang the hotline.

‘Your call will be answered in … thirty … minutes,’ said the electronic voice. I relayed this, pretty horrific news to McMini.

‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ I asked McMini.

‘Yes Mum.’

‘Right oh then.’

Bunny!

So we held … for forty minutes. During which time we stayed with the rabbit so we didn’t lose it. It was very friendly, sniffling at my feet and sniffing my fingers. Definitely tame but a bit shy as well and seemingly very short sighted. At one point it was attacked by another wild rabbit. Did you know that when one rabbit jumps another rabbit from behind, the surprised one can jump at least four feet high? No, neither did I but it did. It was chased around until it ran back to us and the wild rabbit stopped. There was stare down for a moment or two and then I clicked my fingers at the wild rabbit and it scarpered whereas our chap, being tame, was not alarmed.

Finally, the RSPCA answered and told us – you guessed it – to call the vet. They gave us the number of our own vet, the one which was engaged in the first instance and extremely busy. I rang them and told them that I hoped to be bringing in a rabbit. However, while waiting, I had texted the RSPCA local rep to explain what was happening. I texted McOther as well. He came to collect us with the car, some carrots and lettuce, and a cat box. There was a lay by just near us so he parked there. By six fifteen, we reckoned we weren’t going to get the rabbit, it came close, a couple of times but we decided we’d have to leave it and we came home. Rabbits do get out and usually, they do go home on their own.

More bunny!

Later, while exchanging messages with Gareth about the curious antics of ACX I mentioned the rabbit. He said he’d owned two pairs of rabbits and that yes, he did indeed pull them … well … not out of a hat but out of a house apparently. Mwahahaargh. He gave them to his nephew and nice when he quit being a children’s entertainer and got a job with a touring theatre company. He had two pairs and told me his would get out frequently, to the point where he stopped trying to catch them because it was a pain in the arse and pointless, anyway, when they’d always come home.

This was reassuring but our bunny seemed to have very poor vision, and while he probably wanted to go home, I wondered if he’d be able to find his way. More to the point, surely he’d have left the area when the other rabbit attacked him if he knew how to get home. Worse, there was the possibility that he might have been abandoned, in a moment of desperation, by skint, locked-down, parents who’d told the kids he ran away. Maybe that was why he was staying where he was, because that was where he had been let out of someone’s car. Or maybe he was just lost. Perhaps the increased traffic on the A14 was drowning out the noises he would have used to navigate his way home. Or, he may simply have stayed in that spot because, as a tame, domesticated bunny, albeit a lost one, he liked human company. Maybe munching pine cones and relaxing on the grass near a busy footpath was as close to human interaction as he dared get. I thought way too much about this, as you can see, but I decided that in order to come out of this liking myself, I’d have to go back and have one last go at catching him the next day.

Action bunny!

During our NHS clapping session, the local RSPCA lady who I’d texted got back to me. She’d called a local vet, would I mind if the vet called me? I said not at all and sure enough within a couple of minutes a lovely lady from a completely different vet’s practice called me. Yep, there is a third practice in Bury of which I knew nothing and this lady was from there. She went and found the bunny, but she couldn’t catch him either. I said I’d try again the following day and she told me to pop by and she’d give me some food and a box. That morning, McOther had planned to go to a supermarket near the spot where we’d seen the rabbit. He said he’d go check and see if it was still there. However, when he reached the spot, the lay-by had eight or nine cars in it and there were loads of blokes in yellow tabards wielding noisy gardening machinery. No sign of the rabbit. Unsurprisingly. Maybe it had moved on. If it hadn’t, it would now.

Later, at about two fifteen, I reckoned the council gardeners would probably have gone and wondered, that being likely, whether I should go and have one last go at finding the rabbit anyway. It had probably run away to somewhere else, but it was more than just a lost bunny. It was someone’s loved pet. And it was so very clearly a particularly docile, kindly and sweet natured one. The more nights it was out, the higher the chances it’d be eaten by a fox. I dashed off a thousand words of the W.I.P. but by about quarter to three, I knew I would feel terrible leaving the poor little chap out there for another night without trying to catch him first. Cursing my soft centre, because I had other things to do, off I went.

I packed two bowls and a bottle of water into a rucksack and stopped at the vet’s surgery, which was on the way, where they donated a box and some rabbit pellets to help me catch him. The rabbit took about ten minutes to find and was roughly where McMini, McOther and I had given up on it the previous day. It hopped into a patch of grass so I sat down with it, put some rabbit mix in one bowl and some water in the other, opened the box and waited. I noticed there were several big balls of fluff about which had clearly come off something during a fight, one was damp with dew so might have been there a day or two, the other was much fresher. I hoped they weren’t off the rabbit I was trying to catch.

Gradually, as I sat still, reading, my rabbit-shaped friend came nearer, probably more by happenstance than design. I rattled the bowl of grass pellets and almost got it to follow them into the box. Almost but not quite.

For a few minutes I let it get on with eating grass and just sat there with it. It sniffled my feet again at one point and then wandered off to wherever its nose for tasty forget-me-nots led next. It looked like I wasn’t going to tempt it into the box this time. I’d report back to the vet and try again tomorrow. I was a bit worried it might be thirsty, so I thought that before I left I should, at least, try to get it to drink some water. I flipped my finger in the bowl to make … what the hell do you call them … watery noises and it perked up and listened. More splishing and … yes, it was definitely interested. I leaned down and put the bowl right in front of its face. It sniffled it a bit and then had a long drink. Excellent.

After that I put the food bowl down and it nibbled a few grass pellets, I tried stroking it, and it moved on a foot or two. Gently, followed and tried again, stroking its head. I could almost hear it go, ‘Aaaaaaaa.’ It was clear it loved this, had missed it and was craving affection. So I kept stroking it and talking gently to it and then I put my hands round it to pick it up. It still didn’t tense or get scared, not until the point where I lifted it into the air. I didn’t dare support it’s back legs in case it sprang out of my grasp so I did get a couple of scratches from it’s paddling back feet but managed to put it into the box and close the door.

In the process of kicking, one flailing leg caught its own fur and ripped a lump off its tum. It was the same as the lumps of fur strewn around on the grass. The poor little thing had clearly had a horrid night, presumably being attacked by the other rabbit.

On the way back to the vet surgery the box nearly came open. Luckily someone stopped me to ask what I was carrying, noticed and told me. When I told her the box contained a rabbit she melted a bit – clearly a rabbit fan – and asked if she could say hello. I told her of course and as she put her finger through the grill and stroked its head I explained where I’d found it. She’d seen it too, it transpired. I said I thought it might be a bit blind and that, when I’d told a vet this, she had said rabbits get glaucoma. Yes, the lady said, they do, it’s quite common. She told me she still had a hutch and that she’d kept rabbits but didn’t have any right now. She had been with friends when she’d seen this bunny the previous day and intended to see if it was still there. She, too, was wondering whether she should try to catch him. Why wasn’t I just taking him home and keeping him, she asked. I said that he was so trusting and loving that I thought he must belong to someone who’d be sorely missing him. I told her where I was taking him and that if the owners didn’t come forward they’d have to re-home him, encouraging her to ring and say she was interested if she thought she’d like to keep him. She said she’d pop in and ask.

Second owner lined up then … although I am very, very tempted. McOther says that he already has three dumb animals to look after though (McMini, McCat and myself) and felt a fourth might tip him over into insanity. Mwahahaargh. Still …

As I walked on, I felt the rabbit shift and relax and all the weight in the box moved to one corner. Tufts of black fur stuck out of the air holes where he was reclining against the side. A good sign, I thought. Clearly a relaxed bunny. So there we are. The rabbit is safe, with kindly humans who will treat him well and look after him. He’ll spend a week at the vet – which is a legal requirement – during which they’ll try and trace his owner. Then, if they can’t find the family who lost him, he will be re-homed. Who knows, perhaps, with the lovely lady I met on the footpath.

Mood this week. Smug.

_____________________

If, like our friendly bunny, you wish to escape for a while, why not get yourself lost in a good book? And if you can’t find one of those, there’s always one of mine. Close Enough, K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit No 3 will be available from many public libraries (check your app or contact your librarian) and is available for preorder from most of the major retailers, as well as from me. For more information click here:

Close Enough … available 18th June 2020

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Sod’s law and other constants …

This morning, I woke from a dream in which McMini and I were trapped in a version of my parents’ bedroom in our house in the school in which I grew up. We were about to be mauled to death by a very well-meaning and playful – but nonetheless large, powerful and dangerous – semi-adult tiger cub. It was early but even so, I was uncharacteristically pleased to be waking up at such an hour, the alternative being a certain mauling. Groggily I looked at the clock and I realised it was Sunday.

On Sundays, I attend church via t’interweb. This one was no exception. As a somewhat stolid anglican, I tend to go for the Church of England website. Also it’s at 9 am and if I have to set myself apart from the McOthers to do it, as opposed to going somewhere, it’s easier if it happens earlier than later. Something said by the lady preaching struck me. She was talking about trust, trusting in the future, in a future and it got me thinking about routine.

Routine is something I’ve written about before. When things get a bit overwhelming – in my case, in the situation with Dad – hanging onto the small bits of routine can keep your feet on the ground and get you through. This Corona thing … this feels like the opposite. I don’t know about you but my routine had been severely disrupted. I don’t go out or to the same places, the morning routine is different. We are all here together every day, which we are lucky enough to enjoy. But is it the same? No. Not at all. And that’s the thing.

If you think about it. We humans are often creatures of habit. We like routine. Without routine, everything feels a bit impermanent. I’m guessing this is a part of our self-preservation genes. Doubtless, to our cave dwelling ancestors, impermanence and change were synonymous with danger. Life on the move, looking for food and water which might not always have been abundant. Moving from one source of water to where we hoped there was another … everything was a risk. No wonder we stopped and put down roots. No wonder we grew our food, which gave us a much higher guarantee of eating then wandering around trying to forage for it. We could store it, too, rather than carrying a little with us. Maybe it was being settled with part of the day’s chores done – like finding a place to sleep and maybe building a shelter for the night – that gave them that little bit more time to think and have ideas.

Coming back to us, with routine, there are bits of the day you can conduct pretty much on autopilot, freeing up important mental resources for other things. My grandmother always used to say that innovation and technological thinking in the ancient world was bound to be centred round the Mediterranean because it was warm. She felt that those of us unlucky enough to live in Northern Europe at that time had far too much surviving to do. She reckoned that after we’d kept warm through the winter and then spent the summer months gathering and growing enough food, and finding enough wood, to get through the next winter without starving, time was scarce for for thinking, discussion and sitting about having ideas. I’m not sure it quite holds water – after all, look at the way dire times like war always seem to put a bomb under science, which there is never quite enough money for in peacetime (yes, that’s what happened to scram jets and Australia to London in 3hrs, no war, no money, no-one bothered) – but I reckon she might have been onto something.

Personally, I have this theory that on an instinctive, animal level, freeing up brain power and thinking time is what the whole routine thing is about. You don’t think about cleaning your teeth every morning, you just do it. If you did have to plan it and think about it every day it would take longer and it would take more brain capacity. So we’ve learned to do some small tasks, unthinkingly by rote. Once we’d evolved that big brain, it makes sense that changes in our behaviour might have evolved to give ourselves the time and space to use it. Could it be that we are evolutionarily hot-wired to thrive on stability and routine? Maybe it could. Especially as the first of our ancestors who settled were probably safer from predators – although I should imagine they were a bit of a sitting duck in the face of surprise attack from other hostile humans. Hence the practise among our ancient forebears of putting walls around towns.

The thing about Covid:19 is it’s completely buggered this routine. I reckon that’s going to leave certain humans feeling very vulnerable straight off, even if they have no idea why. There is no certainty. What lies ahead? A lot of money troubles for starters. Barring a handful of billionaires, every single person in the world is going to take a hit financially. A lot of people are going to be completely and utterly screwed. Except that may not be the case. We don’t know for certain, because we don’t know what the future holds. The solid ground on which we stand has shifted, but it’s difficult to do anything more than try to stay upright for the moment, until it stops moving.

Then there’s the uncertainty. Each day I set out in hope; hoping the virus will become a bit less virulent and SARS like. Hoping that, if I catch it, I’ll be one of the lucky ones who gets sick without dying. I imagine a lot of the people who died in the Blitz felt the same way as I do at the start of the Second World War. Their hopes and dreams were just as valid as the ones who made it to the other side but … they didn’t. Even so, everyone must have felt like this, survivors and casualties; unsure of the future, wondering whether they would come out the other side. Whether they’d be one of the lucky ones. It’s hard not to keep wondering, which one am I?

Life with Covid: 19 is the human race stepping off the precipice. Nothing above us, around us, below us. Out into the blackness of the unknown. I think that, without the Dad thing, that would have disturbed me a lot more than it does. I like my routine and my life. It being my life, though and my routine, I’m aware that there’s nothing more guaranteed to provoke Sod than getting comfortable, or content in my existence. Doubtless everything is about to go completely tits up, accordingly. That’s how my life goes. But even so, this is the first time I’ve felt that my weird, mixed up manner of existence has put me at an advantage. Because that side of it, at least, holds no fear for me now. I’ve done it and come through the other side.

It’s true that I dislike change, I dislike the feeling that I’m not in control but I know the only thing I control is my reaction. I learned that lesson years ago.

What I’m trying to say is that although it’s a pain in the arse and can also be very sad and painful – depending on how, exactly, Sod and his law choose to fuck up your life, good things can come of it too. Case in point. Writing.

Writing is the best thing ever. I love writing. One of the reasons I loved the jobs I had in marketing was down to the amount of writing required and the fact I didn’t have to look for it or think about it. It was just always there, as part of the job. Explaining concepts and ideas, instructions, press releases. I liked the geeky stats, the parsing spread sheets because I can’t add up and all that, but I enjoyed the writing bit above all else. It’s why I ended up specialising in branding, because they liked my ‘voice’.

Loads of people who want to write a book never do.  The existence of the K’Barthan series is down to many things but there are two specific events that were mostly responsible. Two events which, on the face of it, could each be classed as a bit of a fucking disaster. Since I’ve nothing better to do this week, I’m going to share them with you now.

Event one; I was in an extremely unsuitable job which was not working out, at all. It was a two and a half year contract for a great deal less per annum than the previous job I’d been in (but it was in Cambridge where you pretty much need a maths degree to get on a work experience scheme, and as I have no maths qualifications it was kind of needs must). It was also in a university museum so, for an art history graduate, it should have been ideal. It wasn’t. They did their best but I never really learned how to get on with my boss.

When I arrived, a month after accepting the job, I had no work station. I fished an old desk out of a nearby skip along with a chair. That was my work station the first few months until my actual desk arrived. They tried so hard to be a decent employer but they were struggling with a university politics nightmare that made it tricky. I believe they did crack it eventually but only some years after I’d left. For the first six weeks I did nothing because I had no computer. Even after it arrived, neither of my bosses would give me anything beyond the most mundane secretarial tasks to do, although one was slightly ahead of the other in that respect, and significantly so as she began to trust me to write her correspondence. It was still very much PA stuff though rather than the assistant’s role I was supposed to be in. She left soon after I arrived. With the other one … I guess I just completely failed to gain her trust.

I should add that the Museum, itself, was a great place to work and the people, including my boss, were lovely. But though the boss meant well she was pathologically unable to delegate. Most of the time I would invent spurious tasks to do for the Friends organisation that involved going into the Museum so I could twiddle my thumbs looking at the exhibits rather than sitting at a desk. If that job was a crisp flavour this would be it … a combination of things that are fine separately but which, put together, are stonkingly awful.

It was well into year two of this job and I was looking for an out before my contract expired. It really wasn’t going well and an extension looked unlikely. Another department in the Museum was advertising a very much better paid and more senior job and the department head contacted me one day, while my boss was at a meeting, and invited me in for a chat about it. I left his office with what sounded like it might be a job offer … possibly … at the least, I’d just been invited to apply if the job was advertised. It looked very hopeful.

Back in the office, my boss had returned from her meeting. She knew the job was coming up and seemed to know I’d been to see the department head about it. She expressed what appeared to be a genuine interest. I was delighted, as usually any conversation I had with her was like the Handsome Dan scene in Wayne’s World. She’d ask me a question and then about half way through the first sentence of my answer I’d realise she wasn’t listening. Then I’d be in a quandary as to whether I should just stop talking with my reply half said – which felt a bit odd – or soldier on as if she was actually listening. But no, on this occasion, she was friendly, open, encouraging and all years. I admitted to chatting, informally, with the head of department. She was very enthusiastic and interested and asked all about it, including how much they were offering. Moron that I am, I told her the salary range he’d mentioned.

The next morning, arriving at work, there was a lot of shouting coming from somewhere. One of the voices was my boss and she was having a stand up row with someone in another part of the building. She appeared in the office an hour later, and, when asked if she was ok replied with a rather tart, ‘yes’ and nothing more. Then she got down to work. Shortly after she had left for the day I was called over to see the head of the department who’d discussed the job with me.

Turned out he hadn’t told my boss, she’d guessed. Turned out I wasn’t supposed to say but he hadn’t told me that, and I was a very naive 28 year old, and too dim to clock it on my own. And because my boss said she knew and gave me the impression she and he had talked about it, I thought it was OK. Clearly I had got completely the wrong end of the stick from him about what salary range he was offering because he told me he’d never mentioned the figures I’d remembered. He said he couldn’t possibly offer me the job, now, because the internal politics of it would be too complicated. They advertised it a week or two later. I was told I needn’t apply.

Wow. Invited to apply for the ruddy job, at the very least and I’d still managed to blow it. That took some going. I had completely fucked the dog, as the Americans say. OK. So maybe the world was trying to tell me something. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for the world of work. Maybe I should write that book. So I did. I wrote three books. OK so reading them now, I kind of wish someone else had written them but I got them done. And I learned things. And eventually, before my contract expired I got a much, much more interesting job as a marketing manager for a transport group.

Four years later, working for a company who’d acquired the transport group, I was in a High Powered Job that also paid reasonably well. For the first time in my life I was a Successful Human Being in that respect. OK so my salary was still nowhere near what McOther was earning, but it was getting close to my secondary ambition, to earn what he paid in tax. I was masquerading as a Normal. Succeeding on their terms without compromising on who I was. I was valued, so valued that I’d survived four rounds of redundancies. I was flying.

One Monday morning a very excited colleague greeted me on arrival. He told me he’d been to a company meeting the previous Friday and that the MD had gathered the entire junior management together and told them, among other things, that if they wanted to know who his ideal employee was they should come to the marketing department and seek me out. ‘That’s what I’m looking for in a manager,’ the MD had told them. What he didn’t know, when he held me up as a shining example to his junior managers, of course, was that my salary was paid by a different part of the organisation and their MD didn’t value my input quite so highly. Despite hearing this shining accolade upon my arrival, the HR Director arrived a couple of hours later to tell me about the special fifth round of redundancies they were making for one employee: me.

See? Sod. I remember thinking at the time, ‘This would be quite funny if I wasn’t living it.’

If I put either of those events in a book, people would say, ‘well that would never happen.’ But both did. You couldn’t make this shit up. I remember driving back to Cambridgeshire from Birmingham after my redundancy in a state of complete disbelief. It felt as if another version of me from a different reality had somehow swapped our timelines. Weirdly, I felt the exact same thing, in reverse, when Gareth appeared out of nowhere and wanted to narrate the K’Barthan Series. To the point where there were several occasions where I caught myself muttering, ‘Ha! Take that you cow!’ at her.

Again, the bombshell stopped me in my tracks and the world fell away. It was back to hunting for a job in Cambridge, land of maths and science geeks, looking for someone, anyone, willing to give an arts graduate a job. Opportunities were extremely thin on the ground. It didn’t help that I wasn’t actually qualified to apply for jobs at the level on which I’d been operating. And of course after working in Birmingham, where salaries are exponentially higher than Cambridge it was a tough call applying for jobs which paid what the people working for the people who worked for the people at my level earned. After a couple of months sharing my pain with McOther, he said, ‘I think we can survive if you don’t work in a full time job.’ So I went freelance. And one day, when things were a bit slow, dusted off the appalling books I’d written and thought, ‘hmm I wonder if I could write a real one …’

It’s always been about communication, I guess; about the writing. Writing corporate puff was the lazy way to write for a living. No plotting required, just clear, concise and (hopefully) charming prose and a really big learning curve. I thought I was happy with that. And if sod hadn’t shat on me I expect I would have been. That’s the thing isn’t it? We get comfortable in life. We think we’re OK.

But brand manager wasn’t a vocation.

And I’m an authorholic.

As well as communicating, I need to tell stories – to escape Real Life into a world of my own creating. Sitting down at the desk and writing is completely fulfilling. It doesn’t matter that hardly any fucker reads the lunacy produced, so long as writing it is fun and it means something, anything, to the handful who do read it, that’s enough. Writing books is what I’m for. But it took two major setbacks to realise it.

In conclusion, I guess what I’m saying is this: the whole corona virus thing feels like a kick in the teeth to the human race from Sod doesn’t it? Each one of us everywhere is being shat on by Sod right now – to a greater or lesser degree. Trust me though. No matter how difficult it feels. You will come out the other side of this stronger, more confident, smarter and with any luck wiser and kinder. Because when Sod kicks someone in the soft and squelchy bits it’s amazing how often it ends up doing that person a favour. Not then, but somewhere else, later down the timeline. One of the most interesting reactions to my redundancy was that of one of my oldest and dearest friends who said, ‘It was a great job and I know you had a wonderful time, but it had to end. It wasn’t real. None of it was real. It wasn’t you.’

Take my hand, walk into the darkness with me and we will step into the void without fear. After all, God knows we’re not alone, the entire chuffing planet is in the same shit.

Are you happy now, Sod?

_____________________

If reality is feeling a bit dystopian for your taste right now you can always escape into a good book. Close Enough, K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit No 3 will be available from many public libraries (check your app or contact your librarian) and is available for preorder from most of the major retailers. For more information click here:

Close Enough … available 18th June 2020

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On reflection …

This week lockdown continues. There’s no going back. All our lives have changed, although it seems that the basics of existence in my home town haven’t. I may have to stand two metres away from every one I meet but I still meet people I know on most occasions I leave the house. Accordingly, I still end up wittering on at the poor buggers for hours. So far, I have had one appropriately socially distanced walk with a friend who was going the same way with me and numerous chats.

It made me wonder … for the first time ever in my life, it feels as if I am living through a piece of serious History. Maybe I’m beginning to understand what it was like in the War … great for those who lived but probably a bit of a pisser for the 60 million who died. As a kid I remember asking my father,

‘What was it like in the war, Dad? We’re you scared? Did you know we were going to win?’

To which Dad’s answers were, basically;  exciting, yes but not as much as one might expect looking back on it and yes.

Meanwhile, there’s the lovely story about Mum in the garden at her grandparents house seeing an aeroplane and rushing out to wave at it, little realising that it was an ME109, presumably hedge hopping home. Her grandfather tried to persuade her to come and hide under a tree. She told me,  yesterday, that the plane came back for a second pass during which, as he skimmed the lawn, the pilot waved. I know the pilot skimming the lawn and waving bit was true but it’s the first time she told me he did a second pass. He was low enough, and close enough, for her to see that his breathing mask was hanging off his face, that he had blonde curly hair and that he was smiling. She thought he must have a little girl like her at home. Perhaps, but more likely, he was just … human.

Talking to a friend in Australia the other day she said that, over there, they appear to be winning and the numbers of cases are stabilising. However, if they eradicate it from Australia that means the entire country will have to close its borders until there is an effective vaccine or treatment; two years, minimum. That’s … a hell of a thing.

Are we going to revert to a time when hardly anyone travelled, but, isolated as we are, everyone has a lot more time to think?

Until the big nationalist backlash recently, the world seemed headed to become an increasingly international place. Most youngsters seemed more likely to see themselves as citizens of the world or, where I am, certainly of Europe. They’d watched StarTrek, they assumed that at some point the world would be governed centrally. And of course, we have the internet. The fact I’m discussing the vagaries of lockdown with a friend in Australia says a fair bit. These days, there are many folks I would consider to be my friends who are all over the world. I have never met them, may never do so. It seems weird that, on the one hand we have this internet based, global identity as human, and on the other … nationalism is booming. What’s that all about?

The thought of Australia closing its borders and, potentially, other countries, reminded me of something that happened to McOther and I when we moved into our first house. It was in a small village in the deepest, darkest fens in Cambridgeshire. Our first evening in the village we decided to go to the pub, but it was shut, so we went for a walk. As we stood admiring a lone and slightly incongruous mandarin duck on the village pond an old man joined us and we got chatting.

‘You work in Cambridge?’ he asked us, at one point.

‘Yes …’

‘Hmm, I went to Cambridge … twice.’

Turned out he went there once for a shopping trip, thoroughly disapproved and hadn’t been since. The first time was at the start of a trip to Africa to fight Rommel.

Is that where we’re headed? Less travel, more time to stay at home and think? While time to think is good, open minds are one of the benefits of travel, and heaven knows, it would be a pity if the average English-speaking internet user’s mind narrowed any further. But is that narrowing of minds a reaction to the internet? A clinging onto the stable in the face of a rather rapidly changing environment? Maybe. I dunno.

At the moment it strikes me we are at a tipping point in history, but I don’t know how or why or what for. The political rhetoric over the pandemic sounds increasingly empty and pointless to me. It’s really time we all said bollocks to parties, formed a coalition and worked together. As another friend was saying on t’interweb the other night, we have a chance to make a new start, a different world. The old ways need to change, but what we change them to … ? Neither of us knew.

Czechoslovakian-made black glass button – try saying that with your mouth full.

Despite being locked down life continues to be surprisingly busy. Trying to keep my statutory two metre distance on a rather narrow footpath the other day, I wandered over the verge into the field next to it. It’s currently fallow, nothing but maize stalks. I immediately found a black button. I thought it was plastic and I was going to throw it away until, turning it over in my hand, it had that rainbow iridescence which only glass gets when it’s been buried a good long time. Thinking there was an outside chance it was made of glass, I put it in my pocket just in case.

It looked quite gothic, or Victorian. Turns out that from about 1850 black glass buttons were all the vogue – Victorian then. I suspect this is what I have, although I can’t be 100% sure. I did discover that many of them were made in Czechoslovakia by highly skilled button makers. Mine is not exactly the apogee of craftsmanship but still a nice find. As I walked beside the footpath, eyes down, I found some shards of clay pipe, the obligatory one pence piece that is always found on any trip out that involves looking for stuff, and a piece of Bellamarine jug – a kind of wine vessel used in the fifteen and sixteen hundreds. I was really chuffed as I recognised this and it was confirmed when I posted it on line and it was seen by an expert.

Occasional Bury St Edmunds skywriting

Also I came home and stumbled on the answer to another riddle. For some time now, I have noticed the occasional sky writing over Bury St Edmunds. I remember a few years ago seeing someone draw a smiley face with the help of an aeroplane. Yesterday it was this one. Shortly after seeing it, there was a knock at the door and the lovely peeps who run McMini’s boy’s brigade group had delivered an Easter egg. They were just stepping back out of range as I opened the door so I thanked them and pointed out the sky writing, which was still there. Saying how great I thought it was and that I’d seen others. Oh yes, it was the C3 church’s turn this year, they told me. So know I know it’s my fellow Christians. And that also explains why I haven’t seen it the last couple of years – because it’s a Good Friday thing and we’ve been away for Easter. Anyway, I’ve always loved it. There’s a joyous generosity in doing something fun, or funny, when you may never see the reaction. It’s one of the things I love about eyebombing, the secret, quiet, just-for-myself, in-jokiness of it. I think it’s a lovely idea.

Meanwhile, McMini having spent much time playing computer games with his friends is now doing video calls during which they all bust light sabre moves. Yes he has set up a group and they have light sabre combat sessions. It’s chuffing marvellous. He gets plenty of exercise and needless to say he is horrifically geeky about it – ‘this is fourth position, drop stance,’ he tells me cheerfully as he kneels on the floor with a pair of light sabres extended towards me. He’s also learned the special word for fighting with two, which I forget. I am frequently called to the darkest part of the house to fight duels with him. Me using the Darth Vader red one versus his Luke and Anakin. It’s a bit like Power Rangers. There’s a lot of posturing and poncing about during which, usually, you can just stick yours in his stomach and tell him you’ve cut him in half. That said, he keeps cutting my hand off. Obviously as the parent my job is to lose as spectacularly as possible in a manner that causes me the least physical injury. We’re doing OK so far.

This should be my desk right now.

On the work front, I’ve been having some time off, well … when everyone else is, you have to, right? But it was our holiday so now is a time for pretending I am abroad and drinking a bit more than usual. But also, I had a bit of a crisis of confidence.

Short stuff is not my metier. I like it but it’s not going down too well, lacking world building, too many hints, clumsily dropped abut stuff going on which our hero doesn’t know but we do.

It’s probably safe to say that I do better at long and rambling. But I don’t have the mental capacity for that right now. The long and rambling I’ve chosen to write has a fiendishly complicated plot which needs to mesh seamlessly with the permutations of the even more nightmarishly complex plot of the original K’Barthan Series.

This is where my desk actually is …

What in Arnold’s name am I doing? NEVER write a full length prequel, people it’s the most gargantuan nightmare ever. But this one is looking as if it could easily hit three books. I want it to be good though, I want it to be Rogue One good. Not … bodged like the Phantom Menace. It’s so complicated that I had to put it aside for a while because my brain is too mushy to cope these days. Sigh.

On the up side, I think I’m close to nailing a decent marketing strategy for the audio books. Also, I’m beginning to have that twitchy feeling in my fingertips I get when I want to write something new, so after resting the complicated nightmare, I reckon I’ll have to get on and finish that. Also, I finally got the alts off to Gareth this week. Woot! Jeez I was dying inside doing those, really not sure that I was doing the right thing. Luckily I had to ring him about some other stuff so I was able to check, properly speaking check rather than filtered through WhatsApp messages and my phone’s auto gag, that I wasn’t being a gargantuan bell end. Amazingly, it seems I really was being helpful and not the most god-awful nightmare client. Phew.

So now I have a bit of marketing work to do … a lot, which is a bummer as it involves using my actual, real computer which is rubbish outside. So I’ll have to write it all first, I think and then go in and do an hour a day. Mailerlite is fab but it does take a terribly long time to open and close the interface when I want to edit the hello protocol or send an email. Which reminds me, I do need to send something to the lovely peps on my mailing list, flagging up the impending arrival, I hope of audio. Although it’s a case of seeing if the books go live first … the first two are live in many places but Audible will take another three months or so.

Also in production is the K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit: No 3. Not my best work, the shorts, but people seem to be enjoying them a reasonable amount. Next one is due out in May or June, along with the first two K’Barthan Series audio books, probably (officially) June or July but as I said, it’s a bit of a mix and some are already live.

The week after next, for some ridiculous reason unknown even to me, I’ve signed up to do an online book festival. All well and good, except I’ve now realised it’s on Twitter yegads. I had completely given up on Twitter. I couldn’t work out how to follow a feed I was interested in and could find nothing of worth in the wall of noise. I am appearing on 22nd April at 2.00pm BST, which is NOT British Summer Time as you’d expect. Apparently for their own bizarre reasons, the Americans call Greenwich Mean Time, British Standard Time. I’ve no clue what they call British Summer Time … I should probably try and find out. But I’ve been caught by this one before, when everyone was on line waiting and I didn’t turn up until an hour later because … we were on British Summer Time at the … well … time, and I’d foolishly assumed that’s what BST was.

Anyway, long and the short is, I hope to be there at 1.00 on 22nd April, although I won’t really know when to start because I’m guessing that’ll be dependent on my actually finding my cue; a twitter post from the festival organisers introducing me … Gulp. It’s highly unlikely that I will find it but I’ll have a go anyway. Then I have to work out how to stream live on twitter – I might try that over the course of the coming week – and do an 8 – 10 minute reading from a book and answer questions  … if anyone at all is able to find me. I’ve chosen Escape From B-Movie Hell and I’m pretty sure which bit I’ll read, but I’m wobbling about this and not quite sure whether to persevere with learning to make something meaningful of Twitter or bow out gracefully, before disaster occurs. There’s an author friend who is also doing this so I will seek twitter guidance from her and if it looks too complicated I’ll withdraw as soon as I can so as not to mess them about. I’ll let you know more, or less if I quiche, next week.

So yeh, life goes on. Weirdly but at the same time, surprisingly normally, considering the bizarre times in which we live.

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Woah …

How is everyone? I hope you are well. It’s been a bit of an up and down week for me. No change there, then.

First up, writing. With the McOthers at home, in theory it should be difficult. In practise, while it sort of is, it’s not so bad, it’s more of a question of shaking down into a different routine and identifying when the best times to write are. Unfortunately, the best hour in the morning is the one I spend on the phone to Mum. Lock down is difficult when you have Important People to look after. And I do.

On the up side, thank goodness Dad didn’t have to live through this. He would not have enjoyed it. On the downside, by the time I see Mum again, she may be a very different person. In one respect, I feel I’m being robbed of her last months of sanity, in another, I phone her every day so it probably evens out. I just wish I could see her and give her a hug. I try not to think about that too much though, because that way sadness lies …

Bury St Edmunds … not as apocryphal as this picture makes it look …

Despite comments on the apocalyptic nature of my home town it strikes me as surprisingly busy for somewhere with only a few shops open. One of them is Poundland, much to my amusement, but also relief because there’s nowhere else open where we can buy batteries.

Also despite being supposedly quiet, there’s still enough traffic about for there to be a car coming if you want to cross a road. Yes people. Every. Single. Fucking. Time. Today there was a MX5 in town driving round, and round, and round. Possibly in incredulity at the wealth of parking spaces – bloody hell! That’s amazing, I’ve never seen that before, I’ll have to go round again – I don’t know.

Maybe he was just enjoying an empty road. I have seen more policemen in town than ever before, too.

Managed to remember to cheer the NHS this week too. Yes, McMini and I stood outside cheering at the empty street, with a lighted light sabre each. Yeh. I was the fat one in the pyjamas. On the up side our presence brought the others out. Many houses on our street are rented and I think most of the renters are youngsters who have gone home to their parents. There are a lot of drawn curtains. Even so, people were out clapping and waving. Which was good, if only because it made me feel a bit less of a dick.

Fuck me but I’ve had some strange dreams this week. Unfortunately, they are continuing in my monotonous habit of dreaming about the lavatory. Not surprising I suppose, since it feels like the apocalypse. But I was hoping that I might, at some point, get away with a dream about something, anything other than having a dump. But no. I dreamt I was back at school. It was the first senior school I attended, for two years, when I was eleven/twelve and twelve/thirteen. I had ventured up onto the top floor where the third fourth and fifth form classrooms were situated, where the big, older scary girls were when I actually went there. I saw again the polished linoleum tiles, the pastel shades of the walls, the glass windows into the corridor from the classrooms. Yet despite feeling that familiar attack of butterflies as I entered the scary senior domain, I was also an adult. I was there about my son and I had to see his teacher. While we were chatting I suddenly realised I needed a wee. It was all going rather well so I asked and was directed to the staff loos.

But the staff loos were one loo, with a bath and basin too, like someone’s bathroom. The bath, loo and basin were a very unpleasant shade of 1970s pink. Yikes. But at least it wasn’t that horrible brown, or avocado. Also, there was washing hanging up to dry on the towel rails, hanging from clothes airers above my head, on the radiator, the side of the basin … literally everywhere. I remember thinking that the teachers must live in.

So there I was dreaming a dream and, Lo! Just for a change, I’ve ended up in the fucking bog. As I sat down on the pan part of me was fully engaged in the dream, but another part of me was aware that I was dreaming. Was I going to get away with an unembarrassing wee? Of course I bloody wasn’t. This was my warped dream. So naturally I did an absolutely enormous poo. When I stood up, I banged my head on one of the clothes airers hanging above me and knocked the contents into the pan. With my crap. So then I had to run some water in the bath, fizz it up with liquid soap, and scoop the once clean clothes out of the excrement infested bog and into the bath. I kept flushing the loo but there were more and more clothes falling in there from somewhere. God knows what I’d unleashed. Probably a hole in space time where other people’s washing was falling through a worm hole from alternative universes into a bog full of my crap. But it was chuffing weird.

What the fuck is going on?

I remember being conscious that I was dreaming, and wondering why the sod I can’t just dream about falling or flying or something a bit more fucking normal. I had, near enough, sorted it out, got the clothes into the bath to rewash and hang up again, although there were more and more in the loo, falling through the worm hole or wherever they were coming from. But I’d flushed it, so at least the poo was gone and for all it being bog water, it was clean bog water – yeh I know but this was dream thinking right, not real world how MTM thinks. I woke up before the dream ended. Which was, frankly, a bit of a chuffing relief.

So there we go. More dreams about shit. I suppose it’s not surprising, I mean, we are living it. Which reminds me. How’s your apocalypse going? Still no zombies here in Blighty. As I’ve said before, every cloud has a silver lining.

Seems a little crazy

In COVID:19 madness this week the prize goes to my dentist’s surgery. Normally a highly efficient outfit, I arrived at my appointment for a check up, the Monday before lockdown, to discover that they had cancelled everything. To give them their due, my phone had gone weird that morning so I didn’t receive a call. But after a brief chat, during which they explained that they couldn’t book a new appointment because … COVID. I returned home, teeth unchecked with all appointments cancelled until further notice. Goodness knows who sends out their mail for them, but they’re being ripped off. A few days later, I received letters warning me that I was now due for a check up and must ring them at once. Interestingly, as well as the check up there was one about the hygienist’s appointment, which they’d cancelled the preceding Friday. I hope the mailing service isn’t going to bill them for this!

On the writing front, I’ve things to work on and edit, which are going OK, except I’ve reached that bit where you know it isn’t ready yet. And seeing how much there is to do, you sort of lose the will to live and put it away for a couple of weeks. While I’m a bit meh over existing stuff, I thought I’d like to start a new K’Barthan short because I only have two in hand. It should be easy enough, it usually is but can I?

Can I bollocks?

Everything I try to write is about the bloody apocalypse. I’ve just watched an evening of BBC comedy delivered direct from people’s homes. Have I Got News For You by webcam for heaven’s sake. Impressive, and strangely intimate, coming from the panelists actual homes, but also at stratospherically lord-in-heaven-what-is-happening levels of weird. I really think living this apocalyptic shite is enough, without writing about it as well. Only one thing to do then, I’ve let my efforts to feed back on the fourth audio book bleed into the writing time. Although the huge door stop length novel which might be another series is also getting my attention, even though I’m sure it’s wrong and I don’t really know how to fix it.

On the subject of audiobooks … I had a bit of a crisis of confidence last week. I’ve two uploaded to a bunch of the main sites and they are gradually going live, plus the short  … but the other two are still in editing. I could hear a lot more breathing, but not normal breathing, kind of chopped off half breaths. I was a bit worried that, maybe I was just suffering the effects of syringing your ears half way through proofing four audiobooks. I asked but Gareth says no. Turns out they might be different and it’s something to do with the way you dampen the breathing and plosives when you’re recording. Something called sound gate – sounds like a press scandal, only it isn’t. Too much in one direction and you lose the ends of words and it sounds a bit weird. Too much the other and you get oddly chopped off half breaths. This has happened much more in three and four than in one and two. So I’m going through flagging them up. I’ve done three, but it’s taking ages and it felt a bit pissy. Like repeatedly kicking someone who has actually been very kind to me. Worse, I wasn’t 100% sure it wasn’t just a side effect of having my ears syringed. But Gareth assures me that flagging them all isn’t pissy; that it will help him work out the right settings and that he’ll learn stuff. I heartily hope so.

There are lots to mark up so it’s taking some time. On the other hand, I am really enjoying listening. Some of the voices … there’s a character called Psycho Dave. Gareth’s voice for this guy is genius and it makes me guffaw like a supervillain each time I hear it. Indeed, every time Dave appears, I get the giggles and have to stop. So I’m hopeful that other folks will find it funny. To go with, I need to sort out some email sequences; one for people who sign up after seeing a facebook ad, who don’t know about my stuff at all, one for people who are already familiar with the entire gamut of K’Barthan nuttery who just want to know when the audio books are out and one for the folks, between those two, who know about the books and K’Barth but would be intrigued to know more about the whole audio process and about Gareth. It’s going to take me a while. I’m getting there.

In the meantime, I’m on chapter 32 of book four, so moving, but not quickly. Yeh, patience my young paduan. My aim is to do as many chapters as possible a day, mostly from 10.30 until midnight after McOther has gone to bed. My efforts in this are being hampered a little by McMini who came down to seem me a few nights ago because his bed warmers had got cold. I nuked them to warm them up, which takes four minutes, and while they cooked, so to speak, we had a chat. It was a good one, so good that he now comes down every night at about eleven pm, ostensively to have the wheaties heated up but really, just to have a chat. It isn’t helping with my productivity, but he’s such a sweetheart and such good company. How can I refuse? Ho hum, onwards and upwards.

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Sweeping the cat for tinfoil and other adventures …

Still no zombies … every cloud has a sliver lining eh? It’s quite surreal though, which means your world might be a bit more like mine right now … probably.

This week I have been mostly searching my cat’s guts for tin foil. Mostly, but not entirely. We’ll get to it. In the meantime.

Slightly blue this morning, I expect I’ve stuffed up my HRT dose, in fact, I reckon I’ve forgotten to do the evening one for a couple of days, although, needless to say I can’t be sure because I can’t remember. Mwahahaargh!

A big part of it is that, now we are in lockdown, I can’t visit Mum. Sure I ring her every day but that’s not the same. She definitely has some form of dementia and it’s definitely getting worse. At the moment, although she can’t remember which way is up or what day it is most of the time, she’s still able to follow a conversation and still retains her personality as Mum. But … I’ve walked this path before with Dad and I have to accept that it isn’t going to stay like that. I have to accept the fact that maybe, by the time lockdown is over, my Mum – my real Mum, I mean – will be gone. And that makes me feel incredibly sad. Indeed, I’d probably be blubbing a bit as I write this, but McOther is sitting the other end of the table.

It feels as if each week I will lose another few precious hours of time with Mum by missing our lunch. I phone her every day but it’s not the same, and I can see, or at least hear, her deteriorating day by day. I’m not alone. For example, hardly anyone with a loved one in a home is able to visit them right now. Some have family members in hospital who are stuck there, some have loved ones who were in a home for recovery after say, a new knee op, and they are now stuck there apart from the people they care for until this is all over. It’s mightily grim and we just have to live with it, but I guess I was just hoping, against hope, that I could squeak another visit in before lockdown this week. In the event, lockdown came on Monday night. The temptation to drive down there and see her on Wednesday was almost overwhelming and it’s only the first week.

Bugger.

Other news, I’ve finally finished going through the alts of One Man: No Plan on audio. This has taken me way longer than I expected because there are a lot of blips and half breaths in it which weren’t there in the first two – one of the reasons this has taken me so long is because I re-listened to the first two beforehand, really carefully, to check. Gareth has at least three other audiobooks to do, to my certain knowledge – there may well be more – so I have a little while before he’s likely to be able to look at the alts, and plenty of time to get the fourth finished.

I confess I was horrifically nervous sending the alts for the blips/plosives and audible breaths. I am not 100% sure if my noticing these things was gimlet-eyed helpfulness or pedantic twattery. To be honest, even after checking with some narrators I know on t’interweb who reassured me that any comments like that are always welcome, I’m still a little unsure. It’s a fun listen though, so I hope it all works out OK.

This week more excitement in Lockdown Towers. Run with me on this one, it does get to the point. I have a desk in our dining room. Underneath it is a bag of foil-covered chocolate sweets which I give out at book signings. There are three types, chocolate oranges, chocolate eyeballs and chocolate sprouts. They all come in plastic net bags of about forty. They are spherical, marble-sized and individually foil wrapped. I had two bags of orange ones, about half a bag of eyeballs and four bags of chocolate sprouts.

On Monday evening, just after discovering that we were all in official lock down, I decided that I would ameliorate the impact with chocolate. I went into our dining room, intent on liberating a packet of sprouts for consumption over the coming weeks. However, when I got in there, I and found four plastic net bags with holes in spread across the floor.

Uh-oh, I thought.

I checked the bag and discovered a hole had been eaten in it. Yes. There were teeth holes around the … other hole. Not my son then. Checking the other bags I discovered the holes in those looked more … chewed than cut.

Hmm …

Upon further exploration, I discovered that both the eyeballs and the sprouts were all but gone. The orange ones, however, had been left. They were still in their bags although one bag had clearly been chewed, small pieces of foil removed from the chocolates inside and a couple had teeth marks. These ones had been tested and found wanting then, worse tested enough for me to not be able to eat them with confidence. The others … 520 grammes of chocolate, minimum, had gone.

Turning to Dr Google, I typed in, ‘does chocolate kill cats?’

OK, look, I’m not going to blind you with the technicalities of science here but the basic gist of it is, yes it does. Milk chocolate is less poisonous but 520 grammes in one sitting is lethal. About 30 grammes in one sitting is.

Shit. Now what?

I was wearing my pyjamas. The vet was closed, I knew. That morning I’d had a dental appointment which had been cancelled pretty much as I arrived. I’d tried to buy some cat food from the vet’s on the way home and discovered that it was locked and the customers were all standing in the car park, 2 metres away from one another. McCat’s constitution is pretty bomb proof but I felt that a poison overdose of such gargantuan quantities might be a bridge too far, even for him.

OK, calm, breathe. He hadn’t started throwing up yet.

Then I remembered. I’d found one of the chocolate sprouts on the doormat the week before. Could McCat have been quietly eating them over the three month period, since the Christmas Fayre, that the chocolate had been stored there. Were the scattered string bags merely the culmination of several month’s pilfering, a last hurrah now that the lovely edible balls were gone … well except for the orange ones he doesn’t like.

McOther checked under other furniture but there was nothing to be found so it’s clear that all 520 grammes of chocolate sprouts and eyeballs – minus a handful – had been eaten. The one million dollar question was … when?

McCat. Butter wouldn’t melt would it? Not ill and no fucks given, clearly.

I had a think.

McCat clearly wasn’t ill at that precise moment. I began to wonder if a ready cache of chocolate might explain his greatly relaxed approach to food since the beginning of the year. Not to mention the recent resumption of his tendency to be less relaxed and obsessively request each meal a few minutes after eating the last one. But if he had just eaten all the pies chocolate, we needed to get him to a vet, fast. How to find out though, preferably before he started throwing up, at which point, it would have been too late, Dr Google had told us. That’s when I remembered my pinpointer and had An Idea.

The chocolate was covered in foil. He’d peeled some of that off, clearly but it was equally clear that not all of it had been removed. Some had gone down his greedy fat cat gullet with the chocolate. If he’d eaten them all in one sitting, nearly all the foil had been eaten too. This meant that he contained almost as much wrapper as chocolate and, that being the case, if I ran a metal detector over him the signal from all that foil would blow my ears off. The detector, itself was too sensitive, it would pick up nearby stuff as well and I’d never be able to narrow it down reliably. The pinpointer, however … that was a different case entirely.

Yes, ladies, gentlemen and everything beyond and in between, when you go detecting and you’ve heard a signal and dug a hole, should you have any trouble finding the thing giving off that signal, if it’s really small, say, you can narrow down its whereabouts with a pinpointer. This is good for me because I tend to dig in fields that are bristling with coke, which gives off a large and loud signal. As a result I end up ignoring big signals, because there are that many hot rocks in the fields on which I dig that I find very little else. The little signals, are a different matter, but the things you find are also little, and that means you need to pinpoint them, fast, or you’re sifting about in the clod of earth you’ve dug out all day.

That’s how I ended up with a pinpointer, and that’s how I ended up running my Garrett carrot over the pooh in McCat’s earth box – without touching clearly – along with the cat shit bin – not touching that either – and not forgetting his lardy stomach. Despite a hitch, to start with, when I realised it was picking up the nearby washing machine, I did finally manage to get him in a position where I could reliably detect any foil in his innards. There was none, luckily. We stood down. I didn’t need to get dressed, leap into the car and brave lock down to find a vet. What a relief for everyone.

How many detectorists end up searching their pets? Who knows but I’d guess there are more than we might think.

So that was my week, sweeping my cat for tin foil. I am agog to see how next week is going to out-weird this one.

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Living on the edge …

You know how I lead a fast and dangerous life? Mwahahahargh! Yeh. You will remember my banging on about brain fog every now and again. In truth, my post McMini baby brain seagued smoothly into menopausal brain fog without my even noticing. It is only since the HRT kicked in that I have discovered just how completely bollocksed coddled my brains have been since 2008. It’s like I have suddenly found myself. I still lack energy – chronic pain does that – but I definitely have more than before. Whether anyone will notice my refreshed and revitalised brain is moot though, as I still appear to be the vaguest and most disorganised person on earth. To whit …

This last Monday it was the SPF Show Live. SPF is an online community I joined in 2015 after buying a course on Facebook Advertising run by Mark Dawson. It was, as the title suggests a live workshop, down in London at the South Bank Centre. I booked many moons ago, before the virus named after a fizzy drink reared its ugly head. Registration started at 8.30 am.

Obviously 8.30 am is quite early to be in London from here. I hummed and haad about how I should get there. Train, clearly, but which station to go from? In the end I decided I’d get the 5.49 train from Bury St Edmunds as this did not involve a thirty minute drive home in the dark, in the inevitable pissing rain, with shit visibility and with one headlight going on and off (yes, the other one, not the one with the part I mortgaged my house to pay for). Departure time decided, I set my alarm for unspeakable o’clock and packed everything I thought I’d need the night before.

In the event, I headed off for the station in good time but I’d forgotten something. That thing is this … when I imagine walking somewhere, I imagine it taking about as long as it would take when I could … well … walk. Thing is, I can’t walk anymore. Not like that. I don’t have the same number of knee ligaments as other people and one knee hurts like a bastard at the front, and the other knee hurts like a bastard at the back. That kind of stuff slows a person down.

So, yeh, I left ten minutes and I suddenly realised, as I was still 100 yards from the station, that I only had three minutes to get to my train. It would take me three minutes to get up the ruddy stairs, although that’s still quicker than using the sodding lift.

Maybe it would be a few seconds late.

Yeh. As if.

Upping my walk to the kind of shuffling Igor-style lurch which is as close as I get to a run these days, I ‘ran’ for the train. As I reached the bottom of the stairs I realised the train was in, and its contents were coming down them. Dodging past two blokes carrying bikes sideways, and a whole bunch of semi-somnambulant others, I reached the platform just as the door alarm started to go. Not normally a problem, but as the train is only four carriages long, and the platform is for … more than four … it was parked about thirty feet away. Well … I gave it my best shot. More Igor-esque shuffling and I was nearly there, indeed I touched the train, but the beeping had started, the doors were closing and I was too far away to hurl myself on.

It might as well have been on fucking Mars for all I was going to catch it.

The doors closed. Mourning the demise of the old slam-door type where you could just open the bloody door again and get on as it started to move. I turned with an expression of hapless desperation to the mirror at the front of the station, hoping the driver would see me as s/he looked, before leaving the station.

Hands together in a please, please, take pity on me kind sir, stance, I begged the driver to open them again. No joy. The beeping stopped and after a couple of seconds, the motors engaged, and the train fucked off into the darkness, leaving me on the platform, alone.

‘Bollocks!’ I said.

Ho hum.

I turned and made my way down the stairs.

‘You missed it then,’ said the station master, not unsympathetically.

‘Yeh, touched the ruddy thing, but didn’t get close enough to get in, I keep forgetting I have a limp these days and that I don’t walk as fast as I used to.’

It was a beautiful clear dawn, marred, slightly, by the fact the train was filthy.

We discussed options and he agreed that my Plan B – if it’s me hoping to be somewhere by 5.49am there is sure as hell going to be a Plan B – of going to Whittlesford was probably the best idea. Let’s face it, it wasn’t so bad. It was a beautiful clear dawn, the moon was out and the sky lightening in the east. Yeh, it wasn’t as if I’d be driving home with zero visibility in the pissing rain today.

Back home, grabbed the car keys and headed off. Time was pressing and after driving down the M 11 at an injudiciously high speed … an invigoratingly brisk drive down the M11, I arrived at Whittlesford. Nobody was there yet, so I bagged the closest parking spot to the station, on the end, although some bastard still managed to scratch my car parking the other side of me. I entered my number plate into the ticket machine and paid, although it didn’t give me anything to put in the window, which somewhat unnerved me. As I walked onto the platform I discovered the train I’d hoped to catch was due in one minute.

Nice.

Around me was a surfeit of stern warnings that I must travel with a valid ticket. Hmm … was my ticket valid? I hadn’t a chuffing clue. Better buy another and get a refund on the one I didn’t use. I turned my attention to coercing one from the machine on the platform. I got to the end but it didn’t seem to want to let me pay.

The train arrived while I was still scratching my head.

Yes well, let’s not miss another one. The existing ticket would have to do.

The journey passed more or less without incident, except that I’d have dearly liked a wee and couldn’t find a loo. I made a pithy post about my fuckwittery on the forum for the event, and posted a picture of the rather lovely sunrise I over Cambridgeshire I could see from the window. I hopped off at Totteham hale, thought about walking from Green Park and then remembered what had happened walking to the station a couple of hours previously and changed to the Northern Line at Warren Street instead. A quick five minute walk from Waterloo and there I was.

The glass front of the Festival Hall. No snurd holes …

Needless to say, the first thing I did was take a picture of the glass windows The Pan of Hamgee drove the SE2 through at the beginning of K’Barthan 2. It would have been churlish not to, right?

Course was fab. I homed in on a lady wearing a fabulous crocheted dragon on her shoulder and it turned out she was one of the people who’d commented on my post about missing the train. She was with another lovely lady writing the same and they introduced me to a group of Paranormal Romance writers at lunch who were great company and several orders of magnitude more successful than I am! Also managed to meet lovely author friend J A Clement who was one of the helpers.

Back in for the afternoon’s talks, came out afterwards and … yes, it was pissing down. Never mind, I had a brolly. Quick trot over the railway bridge to Embankment and back on the 5.08 train.

Thirty five minute drive home in zero visibility and pissing rain with one headlight. Oh well, you can’t win em all.

Spool forward to Thursday. McMini plays in ‘Rock Band’ at school. He plays drums and I confess I did know he had a concert coming up. McMini’s school is at once rigorous and laid back. They are extremely careful about keeping tabs on where each of their tiny charges has got to, but they do tend to tell you about something once and leave it at that. So … I’d had the news sheet the week before last telling me that there was a concert. We had all hoisted in that McMini would be playing. But, I kind of expected something nearer the time saying … I dunno … your kid is in the concert, they will be having tea in school, it starts at X time, collect them from Y … that kind of thing.

However, the school is like, yeh, we’ve told them once. They know.

Thursday came, and there I was wandering around McMini’s school at pick up time. I had gathered up his golf bats and sports bag and put them in the car but was there any sign of him? Nah.

As I mooched about hopefully peering into windows and peeping round doors, a couple of members of staff said hello and then another popped out and asked me if I was looking for McMini (impressed he knew I was McMini’s Mum, then again, I’m the only one who turns up at collection time in a silly car so it’s probably that). We had a look in the dining hall but McMini wasn’t there, he was still rehearsing. He had emailed me to explain that he had the concert, in case I forgot, but only at ten past five, after I’d already left. McMini’s school is in the deadest dead spot known to man – probably by design – so naturally, I didn’t receive it until I arrived home.

I met one of his friends, though and told him to let McMini know that I knew he had a concert and that I would be coming and see him later. Then it was into the car, hot foot it home to see if McOther could come, but he had a board call, so then it was hot foot it back, because it started in about ten minutes. It was a very impressive concert. It hadn’t started when I arrived but I was late and there was no parking, except for a space marked as ‘visitors only’ which everyone else had avoided.

McMini’s new school is in an old stately home so parts of it are ritzy

Stuff that! I’m visiting, I thought, wedged the Noisy Cricket into it, between two huge Chelsea tractors and ran in. There were still programmes to be had but no seats so I crept in and sat on the windowsill at the back with all the little boys who were playing on their game consoles while big brothers or sisters performed. I remember thinking, as I sat watching the first item, that this wasn’t quite where I expected to be that evening. Yeh, so while there’s less brain fog, it’s clear that my abject fuckwittery still knows no bounds.

But I made it, and that’s what counts. AND I even remembered to videoMcMini doing his thing so McOther could watch it, too.

It’s probably quite an achievement to be able to organise your life, yourself, and still have absolutely zero clue what you’re meant to be doing when, or what’s going to happen next. Talking of which, the fizzy drink virus … as an ‘at risk’ (rather susceptible to chest infections and still wheezy after a hideous flu bout last year) I’m rather hoping not to catch it as I suspect it will be quite grim, and last year’s bout of flu was bad enough. It’s all getting a bit serious.

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This, that and audio marketing …

In a delightful departure from what was rapidly becoming the norm, I have no rodent-related shenannagins to report this week. Well … unless you count having a tetanus jab, which I did … you know … just in case.

To be honest, I haven’t done much. Partly because it’s been very windy here, I’m not sure what we’re onto now, we’ve had Brian and Chiara who segued seamlessly into Dennis and now we have Jorge who is Spanish and has pipped Ellen to the post. Snortle. But the weather is chuffing bogging a lot of the time.

Ellen. I had so hoped they were going to call it Windy Ethel. Never mind, can’t win ’em all. Whatever it’s called, it makes sitting in the conservatory like being underwater in a submarine. It’s about as dark and about as wet. I have not ventured out today and I don’t intend to any more than is necessary. Needless to say I have a packed social programme with school parents’ evening and some corporate wifing to do tonight. Bastard Ellorg or should that be Jorgllen?

Apart from an ambivalent effort at metal detecting on Sunday – right metals, wrong objects, clay pipe fragments but a nice medieval pottery shard, I seem to have been running around like a blue arsed fly all week but can’t really remember what for. It was mostly crises of my own making, delivering the iPad to the Apple shop to be fixed, picking it up and then setting it up. I was lucky enough to have a lovely visit to Mum’s on Wednesday. The gardening team was there as well as the career and Mum was very switched on. We chatted and watched telly.

While we were there, I played her a couple more of the audio voices. There is one character, Big Psycho Dave, he’s called, who I just can’t listen to without giggling. As you know, because heaven knows I’ve banged on about it enough, The K’Barthan Series is currently in production for audio, along with Unlucky Dip, which kind of acts as a prequel to everything.

At some point, I need to talk about the process, or at least, do a kind of dummies’ guide for Morons Who Are Unable to Grasp the Blindingly Obvious (as I call myself in these situations). Blimey but it’s taken me a while to cotton on. I’m still not sure I have.

One of the problems is that many of the people doing and talking about audiobooks are big hitters. I’m guessing some have little people to do the being an idiot bit for them and spit out the things they need to know at the end. But when it comes to what they do, they don’t want to talk about it. This may well be because they’re still experimenting and have no clearer idea of a successful strategy than I do. Alternatively, it may be as a result of legal advice in case someone says, ‘I did what you said and it hasn’t worked’ and sues them. Terry Pratchett had to stop visiting his own forums because people were starting to suggest things and, worse, say, ‘so, you used my idea then?’ And he’d be thinking, ‘What?’ And his lawyers advised him to make a sharp exit before the ‘so, you’ve used my idea’ bit got to the point where they started adding, ‘how much are you going to pay me?’

Actually, that’s not my approach, demanding compensation if it goes wrong. I’d just love to riff with people about what they’re doing and pick up some pointers. That’s what I’ve always done with the ebooks but there’s not much riffing going on as far as I can see, apart from on two Facebook groups where I’ve picked up a lot of interesting information. But, ideally, I need more points of view.

You may begin …

Some of the muted nature of the debate may be founded in that, if you go exclusive with ACX you have no control over the price of your books, so there’s not much you can do to market them, really, other than tell people they’re there. Obviously with Findaway, you do have some control over the price, you can set it at zero and folks are able to download the book for free in some places, but other sites will set the price at 99c. It’s a different model, I suspect, in that the data transfer costs must be very high, so free is probably not great for business, even if it leads to more sales in the long run. The royalties are smaller too, no 70%, anywhere.

Whatever the reason, I’ve failed to uncover much of the information I’m looking for out there or at least, not in as much detail as I’d like. Although there is a wealth of technical stuff about making your own sound booth, recording your own books, how to set the levels etc etc. If that’s the way you want to go, you’re laughing. As for what I have discovered about marketing audiobooks … well … here are my thoughts.

Thing One: the conundrum …

It’s becoming blindingly apparent that there is no obvious ‘right way’ to sell the ruddy things. Or at least, not that I can see. There’s what works for a particular author and what doesn’t. The only way to find out what works is to experiment. Gulp. And even then it may only work for you. My issue is this:

If you are an unknown tiny fish in the authorial sea – I am – you want social proof on your books, also known as reviews. With ebooks you just approach reviewers, grovel a bit and give them free copies. After a while they read them, tell their followers what they think and bob’s your uncle, five star joy to convince buyers your stuff is magic. (Ideally, but the right kind of one star, I-fucking-hated-that can be just as effective to sell your books.)

The difficulty with audiobooks is that they are massive so you can’t just send them to someone. Except you can with tokens. Both the major players I am looking at; Findaway and ACX, will provide tokens so reviewers can download your books for free and review them. But Findaway won’t provide them to British readers, which may not be helpful to me. Although other authors report their efforts to give away British codes often meet with complete failure, anyway. ACX will only give tokens out if you sign up to them exclusively. ACX exclusivity is for seven years but … if you have uploaded a finished book, rather than used their royalty share scheme (where they find an author for you) they will let you out after one year if you write and ask them nicely.

On the other hand, with Findaway comes Chirp, their own platform, and access to a BookBub style promotion system, and BookBub is extremely powerful. Although I’ve never scored one for more than ‘international’ – that is, promoting a price drop on a book to Canada, India, Australasia and the UK but not America. I’ve never scored a free promo there either. And yes these are the audio versions, but they are still the same less-than-attractive-to-BookBub’s-selection-panel books. On the other hand, you can advertise on BookBub and I suspect that if I can get my advertising shit together, that is where I could get some love for the audiobooks.

Also, there was a massive influx of audiobooks uploaded to ACX just before Christmas, and they are still wading through them. I could still be waiting for my books to go live in six months’ time, I know of authors who have waited five months, already, for their books to go live and are still waiting … At least if I am going direct to both, I have 60% of the market covered from the off … and it matters because it’s not just me, here, half the earnings are Gareth’s. It’d be nice if there were some after he’s put in all that effort.

Thing two: the options …

I think …. Yeh.

I have two cunning plans … although, whether or not you could, strictly, call either one cunning, remains to be seen. Basically, I reckon I need a few reviews for people to buy anything so I may need tokens. The books might get reviews from my lovely fans and friends, they might get reviews from Gareth’s. On the other hand, they might not. The choice is simple:

1. Get my advertising shit together and go wide. Run promotions, submit the books to Chirp, take advantage of being able to control the price, mostly. Give away Unlucky dip for 99c or even free to get them hooked. Use the tokens and try and attract reviews from Canadian, Australasian and American readers. After all, a review is a review, right?

Disadvantages … well … advertising might take more money than I’ve got. Also I might not find many British readers, and Americans might not be able to understand the British regional accents in my books. But, on the other hand, there’s a lot of British slang, and American readers have done OK with that in the ebook version. Also, while the audiobook market isn’t quite Audible-and-the-others yet, or at least, Audible is only about 40%, I believe, rather than the gargantuan slice of the pie Amazon enjoys for regular books, it’s still a big hitter and stymying my books there may cost us at the start.

or

2. Go exclusively with ACX for the first year to get the tokens and bribe people to review the books on the UK site as well as the US one. Get more sales organically because … more punters. Then ask them to release my books and go wide. Because ultimately, I want people to be able to be able to download my audiobooks at the library and in the long run, there is a lot more earning potential there for us. I also want to take advantage of Chirp and advertising and if I’m exclusive with ACX chirp is a non-starter.

The Advantage, ready social proof and the biggest UK market share (at the moment … I think). Also better chance of organic sales. Better royalty rates at Audible – like 40% rather than 25% – which is important if that turns out to be the only place where I sell any books.

The disadvantage of this strategy is that in a year’s time, when ACX release me, there may be a lot more competition for a Chirp promotion and more people advertising audiobooks meaning that traction wide is harder to achieve. In addition, while Unlucky Dip was approved relatively quickly, I have author colleagues who submitted books in December last year who are still waiting for them to go on sale. The upshot being that it may take six months to a year for my book to go live and it may be more like two years before I can go wide. In a market moving as fast as this one, a year feels like a very long time, but if it’s more like eighteen month or two years? Yikes.

And not forgetting that I loathe and detest the subscription model myself – it’s amazing how fast all those £7 a month for different things add up to something big, and cataclysmic, so it goes against the grain because I’d like to have my books available to people like me from the off; people who’d rather buy them outright.

Thing two: different books sell on different platforms.

There’s a suggestion that short books sell better on Findaway Voices than on ACX. The commonly held view is that this is because Findaway supplies more sites where people buy books out right and so those readers will want to try shorter, less expensive books before shelling out for the gargantuan ones. Conversely, readers on subscription sites usually are eligible for a set number of books per month, so they will go for the biggest possible books to get more bang for their buck. ACX supplies more of those, hence you would put your novellas and shorts on Findaway, but not necessarily on ACX (unless legions of your fans are asking) and then the box set – a nice big book for subscription site listeners – goes on both. But again, this would suggest that, if, like me, you’re an author of a novella series and a massive door stop sized books series, ideally, you want to be on both platforms. Or maybe some and some, I dunno. But yeh, I’ve had a brief chat with Gareth about him doing the rest …

Thing Three: there is No thing three.

Every fucking time Mary? Yep. I know. I’m sorry. I can’t help myself.

Thing Four: testing the market.

This is, kind of, where I am now. It’s taken me a very long time to work out how to upload a book successfully. Jeez ACX some coherent error messages would be grand. That said, I have now uploaded Unlucky Dip, the short series prequel to the K’Barthan Series, to all the sites I’m looking at; Kobo, Findaway Voices and ACX. I am also toying with the idea of uploading some snippets, or the odd chapter, up to Soundcloud for you to listen to. That does depend on what Gareth thinks about it. I can’t do it until the audio files are all finalised, anyway.

So we’re nearly set …

Gulp. Here begins stage one of our dummy run.

Unlucky Dip, is on sale. I think it’s about $2.99 and whatever that is in GBP pretty much everywhere, or as part of your sub on a subscription site.

Even more exciting, despite having zero sales reported on either ACX, Findaway or Kobo, I discovered, this morning, that it has an also bought on Audible, which would suggest that somebody, somewhere, has bought it. It’s a decent also bought, too; Jasper Fforde, whose readers sit squarely in my target demographic.

If you’d like to find out more, I have a lovely page, with links to look at it in store for a bunch of places so you are welcome to go and have a listen to the excerpt, or even download it if you like, here.

Unlucky Dip Audio Book

 

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