Thursday, 23 December 2010

still here (more or less)

You know what? In many ways I've had a pretty shit year.

It hasn't ended well. I have a new job in a new career and I've fucked it up. My future is in jeopardy, and people are not queueing up to tell me how great I am. It's tempting to look back at the last few years and list all the ways I've failed.

I'm a forty-one-year-old woman with an eight-year-old and a two-year-old and it's fucking hard. I've had to make hard decisions. About what, who, when to prioritise.

There was a time when I was sitting in a training session. I was invited to think about how I could make someone close to me happy.

I thought of one of my very-best-most-loved persons, who I had nursed through an anxiety attack only the night before, and who had felt so much worse when I told them how amazing they were. "Don't", they moaned. "It doesn't help."

"What can I do to make this person happy?" I asked myself. And the answer came, "Nothing."

So I thought about my son. "What can I do to make him happy?"

I considered the conversation we'd had. "I wish you still worked at home," he said after I failed yet again to pick him up early and save him from the parent-stealing tedium of after-school club. What could I do to make him happy? I could give up my new job, the thing that had me sitting here discussing what I could do to make people-important-to-me happy.

Not long after that I found myself in an office, crying, as someone senior to me listed all the ways in which I was falling short of expectation.

But I'm still here.

Not that anyone will read this, as I haven't been here for ages.

For the first time in years I have shaken with the wide jaws of anxiety open before me. Threatening all that they brought before.

But I'm still here.

This is a bloody stupid job. It destroys its practitioners, yet they come back for more, those endless streams of unthanked fodder.

But I'm still here.

And I'll still be here when I'm there. And I'll get there because I'm stubborn. And bloody-minded. And bloody bloody stupidly-fucking bloody stupid.

Anyway. It's Christmas, and a birthday, and bloody Christmas, and merry bloody stupid fucking Christmas bloody birthday to you all.

xxx

Sunday, 7 November 2010

George Takei Socks it to 'em

Lovely video!

George Takei (the doctor from Star Trek, who was also on I'm a Celebrity recently) challenges anti-gay Arkansas School Board member. Good for him.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Ha

I received this from a commenter...

"I know you'd like to put a line under it, so I wondered if this could help.
xxx"

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Out of Print

A few days ago I mentioned I was thinking about cancelling the possibility of a second print run and quitting while I was ahead. Then, spurred on by friendly commenters, I decided to have a go at getting 54 orders before mid-November, which would have allowed a second print run in time for Christmas. But then I realised that would mean spending the next four weeks being slightly obsessive about how many books I was selling and then possibly having to call a halt anyway, but on the tails of failure instead of success.

The thing is...

(a) My life has moved on. I'm immersed in my new job and have no time or energy spare for anything else. So...

(b) I can't promote the book, which means I can't do the job of selling it properly, and it's no fun doing something half-cocked. And anyway,

(c) The original aim was to use some spare time I had over the summer to make a limited number of books available to family and friends, and then wrap it all up neatly and say goodbye to writing for a while. It was a good aim. It made sense.

When I do things, I like to do them properly. I don't like things lingering in the background and being faintly irksome. I want to give them my all.

I'm really pleased with the book and the way it turned out, and I'm delighted that I sold 100 copies in such a short space of time. It's understandable that those sales should be petering out now, because I'm putting no work into selling or publicising the book. Trying to self-publish fiction is notoriously difficult. The average number of sales is around the 100 mark, and that's for people who spend a lot more time and energy on pushing their books.

I've just about got enough spare books to cater for the people who placed orders recently, so they will get their books and that will be that.

It's good to end on a positive note, as well as a relief. Those of you who have books can feel very smug: You own a rare article. Treasure it. Love it. Stroke it. Whisper sweet nothings to it. And stop feeling guilty because you haven't got round to reading it, or posting a review online, or whatever. There's no need any more. Hooray! Thank heavens for happy endings.

And now I can have a rest.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Autumn

Sheesh! Bit of a nip in the air now, eh? I am now fully entitled to get all smug on yo arses about how I am still cycling to work every day and will continue to do so throughout the winter. That's an hour of solid exercise every day, come rain, shine or snow. Last winter I cycled to work in a blizzard. That's how hard I am. In your face, cake-and-chocolate-induced lardiness! Of course I will just eat more chocolate and cake to compensate but shhh, we'll pretend we didn't notice.

I have a beautiful cycle path to get to and from work every day, and the best bit about it is the crunchy autumn leaves. I am developing pin-point precision in squashing every crunchy leaf in my path, and the pleasure of this never diminishes. Soon the crunch of leaf will be replaced by the crunch of ice-covered puddles, which is equally satisfying.

I'm knackered and my kids keep getting ill and life is BLOODY HARD, but it's the right kind of hard. It's satisfying-hard, challenging-hard, never-boring-hard. Smug-hard. EXHAUSTING-hard.

I wrote a poem the other day. It woz kwite gud. I think. But I won't show it to you, so you can never prove me wrong. HA.

Right. I have work to do. Toodles.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Slow

I never look at the picture part of postcards - I always turn over straight away to read the writingy bit, cos I always think that's more interesting.

The postcard on my doormat was writing-side-up anyway, so I picked it up and perused it.

But the other thing that happens with me and post is that I never read it properly at first. This is partly because my first sight of any post tends to happen with a bike in my arms. I cycle to work, but I keep my bike inside the house, and we have steps leading up to the front door, so I carry my bike over the threshold, simultaneously looking down at the post, and then I have to do a million boring small things like remove cycle clips, helmet, fluorescent vest, and any other waterproofs, hats, gloves, scarves etc that might be cluttering my person.

Often it's just a pit stop, and all I'm doing is swapping work-laden pannier bags for a child seat on the back of the bike before I dash back out again to pick up the kids. Sometimes I have a little golden window of time before that next part of my day, and usually that's spent flitting about the house trying to decide which is most important out of
(a) kettle on (cup of tea),
(b) computer on (check email, find out whether my book has become an internet sensation overnight)
(c) dinner on (it's easier to cook without a 2-yr-old wrapped around your shins)
(d) klobber off
(e) wet laundry out of machine
(f) telly on
...which generally ends up with teabags, fluourescent vests, wet pants and computer keyboards being combined in all the wrong ways.

Aaanyway. That was all an attempt to explain why it took me so long to work out what the hell was the postcard on my doormat, and who it was from. The first thing I looked at was the handwriting. I didn't recognise it. So I looked for a signature. There wasn't one. It was covered in close writing, but there was no name at all. I looked again. There must be a name, surely? No. So I scanned the content. It was something to do with the angle of a chair. Wtf? I looked for a name again, more slowly this time. Nope. Nothing there.

Finally I turned it over and found this:



Aha! Snailr! Of course!

All the time I had been pondering this, I had also been removing cycle clips, putting the kettle on, turning the computer on, etc. I still had tea to cook, kids to pick up, yadda yadda, and I didn't want to read the content in a rush. I wanted to savour it, because this was An Exciting Event. In the end my partner read it before I did. Not knowing who it was from and not having heard of the Snailr project, he pronounced himself Amused But Thoroughly Confused. I'd been through the confusion part already, so I settled on amused. It was a very nice postcard. I'm glad I got it. The writingy part looked like this:



(I couldn't resist the product placement. Forgive me. I wrote that book. You can buy it / find out more about it here. Lucy Pepper designed the cover, and Francis Blake illustrated it. Isn't it beautiful?)

...and this is what the postcard said:

"As I write this the Eastern European grandfather in front of us has been trying to recline his chair to his satisfaction for the last 18 minutes. Continuously.
It is like this angle [see first chair pic on postcard above]
he wants it like this angle [second pic]
it keeps doing this angle [third pic]
Yes. It is basically the same angle three times over. As far as I can tell, he wants to recline it 15 degrees and keeps getting it at 30 degrees by mistake. So he tries again. Ratches clank and scrape as he goes up, down, up, down, his yellow thumbnail hanging over the back. 'Is not stay.' He turns and says to us. Then tries it another 40 times."

It also has a number 3 on it, which I presume means it was the third card sent.

Snailr is Anna Pickard's latest project. It's a brilliant idea. She went on a 2-week train trip around the US of A and documented it by sending postcards. A kind of one-destination-only hard-copy Twittery thing. Ish. Sort of. It's explained better here. Anna is lovely and clever and good with words and I felt very special for having my very own unique Anna Pickard artefact. Thankyou Anna.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Lovely stuff

People have been steadily receiving books all this week, and I've been getting various bits of feedback, some of which have appeared in some form or other on Twitter, but these were too long:

"Picked up Dance Your Way earlier. Read for a few minutes, entranced, then thought of something Alice can use for her plaudits :

DO NOT READ THIS BOOK while making lunch. You will burn the scampi.

DO NOT READ THIS BOOK while eating dinner. It goes cold.

I feel as if everything's gone quiet. We're all reading the book!" - Sarah Kachel

and from the designer (Lucy Pepper):

"they DO look and FEEL lovely... well done YOU, mostly.
and I LOVE the acknowledgement. not many people appreciate my bra talent."

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Majestic Man

The new job is in full swing, and I am exhausted. My grandfather was buried at the weekend in a truly beautiful and historic location, in view of both mountains and sea. It is sad. I miss him. My mother drew a picture of him (reproduced below), not long ago. I have a copy of this picture, and it is beautiful, but at the moment I have placed it carefully face down on a table. It is just too sad.

I am having occasional tearful moments of "Oh, no, it can't be true." He was 100 years old, so it is not only true but no great surprise. Nobody gets to live forever but he really did his damnedest and there is nothing to regret. But he is gone, and I miss him.

The books haven't arrived yet, which is ever-so-slightly annoying, particularly as I can't easily ring from work to discover their whereabouts. But they were apparently dispatched yesterday via next-day wotsit, so they can't be far away.

Here is what I said at the funeral. I don't normally read from a script when doing public speaking, because it never works as well as ad-libbing from notes, but I was in no fit state to do anything else. It was written in a rush, on the morning of the funeral, with my nephews running in and out of the room shouting and playing cars around my feet, but sometimes the best things are written under such circumstances:

"I went into the chemist a few weeks ago and got talking to Sandra, the lady behind the counter. I mentioned Brenda and Bill, and she knew straightaway who I meant. Bill in particular was the one they saw the most, and they used to call him Sir Fenton.

'Oh no,' he would say. 'You must call me Bill.'

This tiny tale encapsulates for me the essence of Bill. The title, 'Sir Fenton', would have been earnt by his immense dignity. As a very small child, I was ever-so-slightly scared of him, but I quickly learnt what lay beneath that majestic exterior. I expect we can all imagine the expression on his face when he said, 'You must call me Bill.' The twinkle in his eyes and the subtle smile. Right to the end he maintained that dignity. He bore his illness calmly and with little complaint, he chose his words carefully and he always knew what he meant.

When I saw him last, only a few weeks ago, he was very weak and for a while we sat in silence. But then he showed his immense love by asking after my two sons - his great-grandchildren - and smiling as he heard of their exploits. And then he said a very firm goodbye. Few words, clear intention, dignity and love to the last. He has been a quiet solid presence for all of my life. Presence was something he had in abundance, and his absence creates a very large hole. I'll miss him."

My grandfather:



I really want to write a longer piece, like I did for my other grandfather, but it may have to wait.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Loop the Loop

I coped all right when my first grandad died, a few weeks ago. But the cumulative effect means that I am managing a little less well now that my other grandfather has gone. He was 100 years old and died peacefully on Saturday afternoon. I'll write properly about him soon, I hope.

Life's a little difficult right now. There's the new job, the bereavements, the ongoing infirmity of our ageing dog (featured here, looking remarkably well), some other stresses and strains, my knee is infected (I fell over and cut myself on a mountain rock) and then there's parenthood.

I love my kids, enormously. They are beautiful and clever and gentle and sweet. But one of them is a toddler and the other is an 8-yr-old and it is hard to keep them both happy at the same time. And I am a woman of extremes, so when I am with them they get so much of me that I can't cope with giving any of me to anything else. Which is not a practical or realistic way to exist. And I can't bear to hear them cry. Toddlers cry quite a lot.

So, the summer has been a bit of a strain. I have spent more time with my two boys than I normally do, and I have become very tired. I am 41 years old. I am a naturally energetic person, but children are tiring and my bones are old. Ish. OK, I am less than half the age that my grandfather reached, so it is silly to talk of being old. I still feel it.

So, I've been fretting and stewing and miserabling and struggling to relax, or to make the most of things I should have found enjoyable.

This afternoon my two sons and I visited the Manchester Museum. But first we went to the doctor, who pronounced my knee infected and sent me with an "urgent" note to a clinic that couldn't fit me in. We then got on a bus, which was a bit of a faff. One of the main corridors in the museum - which we had to pass several times to reach the lift - contained several prominently-displayed corpses (Egyptian mummies). These were pronounced "scary" and resulted in an increasingly-heavy two-yr-old demanding to be carried every time we walked past. Both children enjoyed the stuffed animals, the live frogs, the colourful insects and the dinosaurs. By the end of it all, I was knackered.

And then we walked outside. There is an installation in the courtyard called the "Reflective Room".



My 8-yr-old had bought a polystyrene aeroplane for 50p in the museum gift shop. His brother had one too. They were happy for well over an hour, launching their planes from various different locations and performing a series of impressive stunts. I just sat in the installation and marvelled at the sky, which was blue, and the roofs, which were red. It was a very comfy installation.

I ambled back into the cafe for a coffee, accompanied by an excited 2-yr-old. We went back out into the sun. We bought more planes. Another family appeared, and we donated one of our aircraft, which made their children very happy.

It was one of those spontaneous outbreaks of peace. My 8-yr-old suggested that maybe his dad would look after him and his brother one weekend and I could come back, to sit there and read a book. He's considerate like that.

We had to go in the end. The museum had closed long ago and the little one needed a nap, but we were all content.

It's hard to exist and let things be. When you do, it's magical.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Him Indoors

By the way I should have said, it was that other half of mine that wrote, directed, edited and generally masterminded the Beast of Birker Fell, not to mention conceived it as a way of entertaining bored youngsters on a rainy day. He also did the whole thing in about ten minutes flat (all right so I exaggerate, but only a bit). He very clever.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

What I Did on my Holidays

This is good too!

It is on YouTube!

And I AM IN IT.

OMg OMG OMG, will i be FAMOUS?

The Beast of Birker Fell

(by the way: You have to watch the very last second of the credits, because the monster's final facial expression is classic.)

tHE sHELL wITH fEET!

This is really really good. Everybody watch it NOW.

A film about a shell with feet

Because I said so.

Come in Number Six, Your Time is up

Megan has been writing here about feminine maintenance and her own slap-dash attitude to it, and that reminded me of similar musings I was having today on a bus.

When I was a teenager, there was a brief period when I did at least try to read and understand the articles in Jackie magazine. Like Megan, I became aware that everybody is supposed to have a particular face shape, but could never work out what mine was, or what I was supposed to do about it. I managed to get to grips with eyeshadow and eyeliner, but lipstick and foundation and hair always went a bit wrong. I made a few vague attempts to master them, but mostly failed. I suppose these skills are supposed to come from mothers and sisters, but my mother was brought up in the countryside and educated by nuns and was far more interested in books anyway, and my sister made a point of looking the other way whenever I came near.

I didn't care much anyway. I liked myself for who I was, I had long ago accepted that I didn't fit in and was already starting to relish it. It wasn't long before I decided I was a lesbian, shaved my hair off and gave up on make up altogether.

But I had this vague idea that anyone could be beautiful, and one day I would get around to it too. I had a good figure, good skin and glossy hair. My chin, nose and ears were all too big, but a clever haircut and some cunning make up, a bit of attitude, a bit of style... were all I needed. And one day I would find them. Maybe I would go into a department store and get one of those make up girls to teach me about make up. Except that they all applied their own with a spade and looked universally dreadful. Or maybe I would find a book to teach me, or get a girlfriend who would take me under her wing. Maybe there would be a wedding day. Women always look beautiful on their wedding days. I'm not sure how, but maybe I would have a wedding and learn some lessons. Except I couldn't / can't be bothered with all that, and neither can my non-husband.

It was never a priority, I never got round to it, and now it's too late. The things that are wrong with me are permanent. Saggy, wrinkly, greying, fat, drawn, tired, haggard...

Yesterday the checkout man had a conversation with my 2-yr-old son about his nan. He meant me. It's not the first time it's happened.

OK, so hair can be dyed and weight can be lost... but the same problem exists as always did. I don't care enough. Hair dye only works if you reapply every time the roots come back, and I'm never going to be that on-the-ball. The idea of wasting my precious time on tedious beauty routines irks me. I don't even moisturise. Shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, eyeliner and mascara are the only items in my spongebag.

I can't think of an easy way to end this post other than with a faint shrug, so I will move onto the reason for my presence on a bus, which was a trip to the dental hygienist. Who are these people? Who would voluntarily do that to people all day long?

I can be very obedient when instructed by people with medical degrees, and I was there because the dentist told me to be. But WHY? I was stabbed and poked and prodded and made to bleed, and it was all thoroughly unpleasant. It HURT. And I felt thoroughly battered about, and for what? My teeth weren't decaying, they just had a bit of scale on them, and it was all sitting there quite happily. It wasn't causing holes. Indeed you could say it was providing an extra layer of protection. And surely it can't be good for your tooth enamel to be scraped like that with a sharp thing? Isn't it a bit like cleaning a non-stick pan by scraping at it with a fork? Here I was paying good money, giving up good time, to be attacked with painful pointy implements, and I hadn't even asked why. And nobody had attempted to explain it to me.

And what is all this dental hygienist business, anyway? Last time I got scraped and polished it was done by the dentist herself, and it was bloody ages ago.

"See you in three months," said the hygienist.

"You'll be bloody lucky," I muttered under my breath, and ran away very fast.

They do feel quite nice now though, my teeth. I'll give her that.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Flowers and Smiles and Puppy Dogs

I've been doing an awful lot of moaning of late. I spent most of the latter half of my holiday whingeing and sighing about how hard it is being the 41-yr-old mother of a 2-yr-old and how impossible it makes it to relax or have any fun or enjoy one's holidays... but then I gave myself a metaphorical slap and reminded myself of how adorable he is, how short-lived this phase of his life is, and how motherhood is hard for everyone.

My life does swing at the moment between moments of wonder (his skin as he wraps himself around me, his smile, his squidginess, the speed with which he learns) and of hell (tying to cook or pack or clean or shop while he trails after me, grizzling and wailing "Mummeeee"), but I try too hard to fight what has to be. It is the way it is, and this too shall pass.

Likewise with the book. There are tons of positive things about this book, not least all the lovely things peple have done and said and the gorgeousness of the cover, and the fact that I am in control. It's also done what I wanted it to do, which is revive my faith in myself as a writer, stop me from defining myself as "Failed Writer", and give me a little creative boost before the mayhem and potential drudge of the new job.

Publicity is a pain. Trying to sell oneself and one's work is a pain. But it doesn't have to be. All I have to do is stop whingeing, decide what I'm happy and comfortable doing, and sod the rest. I am answerable to nobody but myself.

Publicity Fatigue

This post is a continuation, after my guest post here on Strictly Writing.

It's the "look at me" thing again, and how it relates to being a writer.

I used to rather enjoy saying "Look at me," but it has become less enjoyable since I've been trying to get published. The main thrust of my guest blog was that I like it less because I'm not successful at it. I said "Look at me," and nobody did.

It's not just that though. This brilliant piece here is by Liane Spicer, and is about how readers can help writers. But she has inadvertently highlighted the other reason I don't enjoy look-at-me so much any more. The main way readers can help writers is by spreading the word about their work, and there are a gazillion ways of doing this. These days they mostly involve online tools such as Facebook, Twitter and book recommendation / review sites like Amazon. But none of that will work unless the writer or their publisher has opened up those avenues in the first place. Sadly the main effect Liane's article had on me was to have me fretting about how my book isn't listed on Amazon. It's technically possible, as I do have an ISBN. But I'm not planning on holding books in stock, which would make it hard for the Amazon thing to work. And I can't afford the kind of cut Amazon would demand on sales. And anyway I'm probably too small an outfit, and and and...

The main reason is that I find it all so exhausting. Each little bit of online tomfoolery takes up even more time and adds even more soul-destroyingness to the number of places you have to check for feedback, and then sigh at when there is nothing there.

There is a distinct "Oh, sod it" element to the way I'm publishing this book. There's a part of me that wants to make it deliberately hard for people to get hold of it. And then I can cite that as the reason, when sales are inevitably low. I can also throw my hands up when people say, "But haven't you tried..." and I can reply, "No, I haven't, because this is a necessarily small enterprise and can never be anything else."

And although I keep being pulled in the direction of Sales Maximisation, Publicity Saturation and all that jazz... even though I secretly dream of my book suddenly Going Large... there's a large part of me that thinks, "Sod it. Only a handful of people will ever know my book exists, and it's worth it for the peace."

Still. Ahem. [cough] The only way my book will ever sell is as a result of word of mouth. So, er. You know. The power is in your hands. If you've ordered a copy... if you enjoy it when it arrives... if you happen to hang out in any of those online places and you have a moment to spare... feel free to do my publicity for me. But if, like me, you get a pain in your left ankle at the very thought of it, then hide the book under your pillow and keep it as a very special secret, which is for you and nobody else. I really won't mind.

...and I also promise to stop moaning and whingeing, starting here.

s-Press

Daily s-Press - a rather nice daily online mag re indie publishing - has a feature on my book today: http://bit.ly/cZWdRk

Meanwhile I am at home with the kids, who are playing cardboard boxes but getting bored cos it's raining... have at least managed to unpack after fortnight away though. Alton Towers this Wednesday! Woohoo! I mean it. I rather like it. I just turn into an 8-yr-old again.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Update

I'm still on holiday, but have been sorting bookish things out while I'm here...

There's a guest post by me on Strictly Writing here:
http://strictlywriting.blogspot.com/2010/08/why-do-we-write-guest-post-by-alice.html

The order has been sent to the printer and the books should arrive on my doorstep in about 3 weeks' time, at which point I'll send them straight back out to those who have bought them. Currently 79 copies have been sold, and I'm keeping ten for myself, so another 11 are available for sale. I can't guarantee another print run but there may be one around Christmas time.

Right, I'm off to admire the view!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Never Mind the Goats

A letter to my grandmother from a fellow writer, found folded between the pages of a short story in a 1974 political magazine:

“Dear Mrs T,
Thankyou for your card and note at Christmas - I was sorry not to have seen you during the year after all; perhaps we’ll be better organised in 1974!
This was what I was writing when I spoke to you, and you very rightly said start now, don’t stop, so I thought you might like to see it. I’ve often thought of you writing with girls dispatched to school and goats milked, and admired it - and admire it even more now! To say nothing of R*’s industry and stickability.
I hope all’s well with all of you. Please remember me very warmly to Mr T,
and with love -
M.”

* R is my mother, Mrs T’s daughter, who herself is a published writer.

Girls dispatched to school and goats milked. And then some. An amazing woman. I saw her this week and she was concerned about the woman sitting next to her in the old people’s home, who didn’t know who she was when asked. “Come on now, do your best,” she said. My grandma didn’t know who the woman was. She didn’t know who the four great-grandchildren playing at her feet were either, but she loved having them there.

PS Since writing this I have visited her again. “I know you, don’t I? … Good, because you look nice.” She also asked whether I was a writer, and was very pleased to find that I was.

Fast

[NB - this was written on Mon 9th August, while on holiday]

FAST

I was thinking just now about the whole publishing ting - unsurprisingly it’s not out of my thoughts much these days - and I realised, it’s less than a week since my book was launched. And I’m already moving on - seeing it in the past. Which technically it is - the launch date anyway - but the publication of my book is still - or ought to be - an ongoing process.

This tells you something about me. I’m always in a mad rush, trying to squish a million things into one small space, whether it be clutter in a cupboard or life in a weekend.

That makes me sound like the kind of person who might abseil down a tower block, drink 20 pints in a weekend or travel the world at the drop of a hat. I don’t do big stuff like that. I do smallish stuff, and I never travel far, and I always make sure I have a safety net. But I do it BIG. Or maybe I just do it fast. Or slightly mad. But also slightly sane.

The thing about me is that I have ideas. I’’ve written before about my crazy-bonkers ideas and how most of them never get anywhere. But occasionally I’ll take something forward. There’s some critical point, which is never easy to identify at the time or even afterwards, but at this point it stops being a crazy dream and starts being The Thing That I Am Currently Obsessed With And Will Move Tower Blocks To Achieve.

At first I thought this self publication thing was an unworkable idea, the kind of thing you dream of but never do. But it wasn’t until it became the kind of thing you dream of that it became likely. For a while I toyed with the idea of sticking it on Lulu. No offence, Lulu, your books are great for what they are and they serve a purpose and all that, but… their covers bend and curl. I’ll never get past that.

As long as the self-publication dream was a matter of cheap expediency, it was never attractive enough to bother with. But as soon as I thought a little bigger, the nugget became buried in some crucial part of my brain. What if I put a bit of time, money and effort into it? What if I made something I could truly be proud of? The answer came, Sod Off. Don’t be daft. You haven’t got the money or the time. Or the energy. Or the confidence. But the idea stayed hanging in some dreamy bit of consciousness and refused to go away.

As recently as six weeks ago I thought it was just another crazy scheme and would never become reality, or if it did it would be a bit shit.But then the illustrator painted the beautiful picture, and the designer wove it into something wonderful, and I managed to do a final edit that I was happy with, and then…

The thing is, I’m stuck. I’m trapped in a bubble of time. I have been for ages. It hasn’t happened yet, this bubble. It’s over there somewhere. In the future. And I’m stuck there. And I can’t escape. My whole life has been about getting somewhere else. Making plans. Preparing. And I never arrive. So now my book has been launched - only days ago - and I’m already elsewhere. Done that. Time to move on.

And then I realise… oh. I’m actually still here. And it’s quite a nice place to be.

Maybe I’ll stick around.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Taking Stock

I think the book launch is going well. I've sold 61 books, and have decided to go to print when I have 90 orders (I'll keep 10 books back for personal use / emergencies). I'm really really hoping that Magical Ninety will be reached this weekend... which brings me to the point of this post.

At several points during this self-publishing process I've got confused about why I was doing it. There have been a few (unpleasant) moments when I've got my knickers in a twist because I worried that I was Doing The Wrong Thing. Usually in respect to some attempt at publicising the book, but sometimes regarding its content. All of those worries could be summarised as either What will the publishing industry think? or What will potential buyers think?.

I do care what other people think, of course I do. But why should I care what the industry thinks? I've already accepted I'm not going to get a conventional publishing deal, and that's no longer my aim. If it was, this would be the wrong way to go about it.

I really want people to buy my book, and enjoy it when they read it. But does that mean I want to start jumping through all those publicity hoops, doing anything I can to get sales at all costs? No. That's one of the things I was trying to get away from. And there are practical issues here: I have a young child, who needs a lot of my time. And soon I'm starting a new job.

I switched careers a year ago and have spent the last twelve months retraining to do something astonishingly demanding and stressful. When I start the new job I'll scarcely have breath to call my own, let alone time or energy. I knew I'd have some spare time this summer, and I decided to use it to publish this book. But I also knew that the legwork would have to fit into a small window, and then I'd have to abandon it to its fate.

So, I can't set up a situation that means I'll still be faffing about with websites, online orders, stuffing books in envelopes or general publicity when the summer ends. And that's why I'm thinking about what I'll do when sales reach 100. I'm contemplating stopping there.

I'm going on holiday for two weeks this Sunday. I'll be in a remote location with minimal internet access, and I'll be on my own with the kids (my partner has to stay behind for work). When I return I'll be manically preparing for the new job. I knew this holiday was coming, and squeezed the book launch in the gap. If I can reach 90 orders this weekend then I can fire off the print run, close down the website and go on holiday with nothing much to worry about.

But... but... but...

What if I could reach 285 sales? If I sold that many, I'd break even. That would be nice. It's unlikely, let's be realistic. But why on earth have I put so much work into spreading the word if I'm going to stop when I've only just begun? And what if some kind of miracle happened and Some Proper Publisher noticed what I was doing and decided to publish me after all?

Argh. That would be a hard one. I'd be a bit dismayed, to be honest. Like I say, I'll very soon have no spare time. They would want me to Do Things which I might not want to do. But maybe I'd be so excited I wouldn't care? Or maybe we could schedule all the Doing Stuff for some future breathing space? But I've already turned my back on all that. I've already published the book myself, and I've made a Damn Nice Article. I think I'd be tempted to say "No, sorry, I can't be arsed." Still. I say that. It's easy to say when I know it won't happen. If it DID happen... oh well. It won't, so that's that.

What I'll probably do is just tinker with things a bit: When the Magical Ninety is reached, I'll change the site so that instead of paying for books, people are making a £2 deposit. If 100 people make a deposit, I'll bill them for the full amount and fire off another print run. And so on, ad infinitum. That would require minimal maintenance, apart from the envelope-stuffing, but I could rope in some help for that. I think I'll do that.

There's an extra tinge of poignancy to this whole adventure. A year ago I had written myself off as a Failed Writer and didn't expect to have anything to do with writing or books for many years to come. Now I'm popping my head back around the door... but it's only to say goodbye again. It took me four years to get my first book into a publication-ready state, and six years for the second. Even if I had spare time to write - which I won't, not for a long time - it would take me an age to get another book out there. I've finally acknowledged that the third book I wrote, the one still in first-draft stage, is never going to be worth continuing with. I'm sure I will write another book. I'll never stop being a writer. But it will be a long time coming. Five to ten years, I reckon. Which is another reason why I'm no kind of proposition for a Proper Publisher. I don't have enough to offer.

I'm really proud of this book, but if you want to read something written by me, you'd better move fast - because after this summer, you'll be waiting a long time.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Go Gadget Go

Yay hurray huzzah, I finally got the website finished. And I should get, ooh, at least three hours' sleep.

So, you can now buy copies of Dance Your Way to Psychic Sex, by Alice Turing, which according to Spiral Skies Jen is "Wonderfully odd and utterly compulsive" from my lovely website which is ever-so home-made but I'm proud of it, so there.

Yay!

What on earth will happen next? I have not the faintest clue. What an adventure.

Night night.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Final final cover.

Here it is!

Is utterly lovely.

A Case of the Jitters

Oh help. It's all getting a bit too close and scary now. Can't get brain to work at all. Keep jumping from one thing to another, getting totally sidetracked by Twitter and really not focusing on the things that NEED to be done.

Oh well. Is all forward movement, if nothing else.

I have now heard back from every single reviewer, and they ALL liked the book. How ace is that?

Latest quotes:

"It's loaded with sharp dialogue, some gorgeous imagery, and is punctuated with a down to earth wit which has you laughing and smiling. This is easily one of the more original stories I've read all year."
- Gordon McLean

"Wonderfully odd and utterly compulsive - some of the snazziest similes I've read all year."
- Jen Maltby

Well, all right then. I say "all". There is one reviewer I haven't heard from. And she is, just a teeny bit, scary. She is Jane Smith, from How Publishing Really Works. She is an actual bona fide editor. And she has another blog devoted purely to reviews of self-published novels. And she holds no punches. The thing is, she specifically says "I'm going to count all the errors I find in spelling, punctuation and grammar and when I reach fifteen I'm going to stop reading." ... and she critiques covers as much as contents ... and yet I sent her a proof copy to review! Am I insane? Yes. I am.

Oh well. Let's be honest: This whole project has a touch of the insanes about it.

Edit: Oh, hang on, there was another reviewer I hadn't heard from! I had lost track, but she just contacted me to say she's enjoying it. So that's OK.

Right. I must go and flap elsewhere. Anon.

nice

Still. Could be worse. Small Person is now in bed, if not asleep. The pdfs are very-nearly-almost ready for the printers. I've managed to set up Twitter, Facebook etc. The only thing not done is the website, and if it really has to it can consist of nothing more than a jpeg of the cover and a PayPal button. It will still work.

I snuck a link to the cover in that last post, but here is a more ostentatious one. This is a not-quite final version - it has been tweaked slightly since then - but it's near enough. The blank white box is for the barcode, and the blurbs at either end are for the foldover flaps (it'll be a dust jacket, on a hardback). Isn't it LOVELY?

Time and again

I had it all worked out. It was going to be hard, but I would manage it. Somehow I would use this precious week to launch my book, build a website (for hosting said launch), do some long-overdue DIY and prepare for starting a high-pressure job in a new workplace.

Ha.

HAH!

What kind of damn fool am I? Haven't I learnt anything?

Lucy Pepper (velly clever lady) calls it Mumphy's Law. That thing which says that whatever you are planning to do, being a mum means that something else will come along and prevent you.

My son has been sent home from nursery because they suspect he might have hand, foot and mouth disease. He might not, but until I can get him to a doctor (tonight, 5pm) they won't have him back. So that's at least one day lost. Even though he's full of beans, happy as Larry, fit as a fiddle and on top of the world, he does have weird sore bits on his hands, feet and bum. So they might be right, in which case that's my whole week disappeared up its own arse.

Meanwhile the house is a horrific tip, which I could have coped with if I was hiding away in my study, but is a really unpleasant place to be forced to chase a toddler around (potty in hand, why oh WHY did I decide to potty-train him this week?). And yes, I could squeeze some housework in here, some typing-with-toddler-turning-study-into-warzone-in-background there, but I was already running on empty. I just can't hack it. I have gone SLUMP instead.

Sometimes parenthood sucks.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Right Then!

Ooh, it's all getting closer and closer... only three days to go. Or four. Depending on how you count it. But ANYWAY. I can hardly believe I'm nearly there, there's still so much to do. Today I have been mostly fiddling about with computer images. I could do that for HOURS. There's something immensely satisfying about it. Maybe I should be a web designer*.

I have also been slowly spreading the word about Thursday. Which is all very well, but there are so MANY places I can do this. Some poor sods will have been told via so many different avenues, they will be sick of the damn thing already.

BUT. Just in case you don't hang out on Twitter or Facebook or any of the myriad other places... My book will be launched on Thursday on this website here. Yes. The one that doesn't exist yet (well, it does a bit, but there's not much there). Oh, shut up. It'll happen. Even if it means I don't sleep between now and then. The cover is near as dammit finished (and BEAUTIFUL). I have heard from 11 out of 12 reviewers, ALL of whom loved the book (yay!) and have written some amazing reviews, most of which will be revealed on Thursday. The internals are nearly done, including a lovely title page, a stupidly-long acknowledgements section, a dedication to Mum, tons of glowing quotes, the logo for my newly-created publishing company Chutzpah Publishing (ha!), AND four more line-drawing illustrations from the ever-lovely Francis.

So, anyway. Here is some small print:

1. Copies will only be available from the website DanceYourWay.co.uk (from 5th Aug).

2. They will look something like this:


3. They will come from a limited print run. First come first served.

4. They will be gorgeous hardbacks. A lot of effort has gone into their design.

5. They will cost a tenner plus postage.

6. Payment will have to be in advance, because I'm skint. But I'm also trustworthy: Copies will be dispatched approximately three weeks after payment, depending on take-up rate.

7. Feel free to spread the word by all available means. If you have a blog / website and would like to host a stop on a virtual book tour, let me know. I'm not actually sure how that works though. Suggestions welcome.

Eeeeeeeeeek.

*Mooted career change number 3,472 over the course of several years.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Ooooh

Oh My God, OMG, eeeek etc...

Actually, I'm a bit drunk. I should state that now. But anyway. The website is being launched in five days' time! Not that I've created it yet or anything, but you know. Soon come.

I sent the book to 13 reviewers, and have heard back from 10 of them. I think. Maybe nine. No, ten. And they all love it!

Oh, it's no good. I'm too drunk. Suffice to say it is all on course and I am working like a bastard and not getting much sleep and it will all be very close but somehow it. Will. Happen. So there.

We have been Officially Getting Drunk, me and The Man and me, and dreaming and wishing and enthusing about all which may happen (not much, but Not Much can be surprisingly exciting).

Also, on an entirely unrelated note, my 2-yr-old is the best 2-yr-old ever and today he and I have had much excitement as I randomly decided that he was going to stop using nappies and learn how to use a potty. Which meant I let him run around naked all day and had to watch him. Properly. If you are the parent of a toddler you probably think you keep an eye on what they're up to most of the time. Maybe you really do. Or maybe you're like me and you just watch out for Things Which Will Keep Them Quiet while you cook, clean, read books, surf the net, go to the loo, watch the telly or self-publish your novel. But when you take their nappy off, that's when you find out whether you're really paying attention or not. This afternoon I was faffing about with book image files and he was being very quiet and happy in the corner of my study (throwing CDs around and puling all the books off the shelves, since you ask) when I heard a noise that didn't quite seem right. I looked over and found him, behind a bookcase, with his potty. He had done a wee on his potty. Yay! Success. He had then washed his hands in it. And stood in it. And generally bathed in it.

Oh. Not so successful. I carried him at arm's length down two flights of stairs and threw him in the shower. Which he loved. For the next hour we pretended there wasn't a hosepipe ban (showers aren't hosepipes anyway, right?) and he sat in the shower stall playing with the shower head while I smiled benignly from the bathroom doorway. The next wee he did in the potty (one of several during the day) he shouted "Dirty! Shower?" and looked at me ever-so hopefully. He also objected to nappy + babygro at bedtime in a way which made me wonder if I have just created a naturalist. Plus a very large rod for my own back.

But it was fun. And anyway. Here are some more quotes, two of which come from extensive reviews which are positively glowing:

“It's clever without being pompous or patronising; funny without being puerile; thought-provoking without being hard work. I enjoyed it enormously.”
- Queenie (from Qwerty Queen)

"Charming and delightful - while still packing a punch! This novel is quirky and clever and big-hearted in all the right ways."
- Kathleen Bryson

“This novel is deliciously different. It is ambitious in its storytelling and poignantly beautiful in its writing.”
- Helen M Hunt (Bookersatz)

In fact, if you don't tell anyone you can follow this link here and click on the heads at the bottom of the screen to see all the reviews and quotes so far. Oh yes, and if you follow that link you might notice... oh. I started writing that sentence and then got distracted and now I can't remember what the hell it was I thought you might notice. So if you follow it and notice someting, post it here and let's compare notes.

edit: Oh! I've remembered what I thought it was you might notice. It has to do with a Jewish word meaning CHEEKY FUCKER. Tee hee. And on that note I have been summoned for Elsewhere Shenanigans. Night night.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Last night I spent a large chunk of the evening with a bunch of books from my shelves, all with alternative covers wrapped around them.

Blimey! What a responsibility! It's like trying to name a baby.

I won't tell you which one I prefer, not yet (although you may be able to work it out from stuff elsewhere on the net).

Interestingly other people don't seem to be swaying me at this point. I took the covers into my partner's workplace this morning and listened to many different opinions, all different, but none of them changed what I'd already decided.

Actually they're all brilliant, which means it doesn't matter so much. All the same I have picked one, and I love it. Now I am faffing about with all the other MILLIONS of jobs that need doing. It feels like it will never end, but it is all most satisfying.











Gathering Apace

[Warning: If you are one of my reviewers, this post contains short quotes from others, so if you haven't done yours yet and you don't want to be affected by others' thoughts, look away now.]

And then, in the midst of funeral arrangements and saying goodbye... there is this new thing. Which seems to occupy some schizophrenically-divided chamber in my head, so do forgive me if I now switch from sadness to excitement, because... Ooh ooh ooh, it's all getting very exciting - and scary - now!

I am such a maddo, fancy thinking I could publish a book in such a short space of time... BUT it seems I am somehow going to manage this. The publicity will consist entirely of Stuff Posted On The Internet, I am not even going to attempt to get it in bookshops or enter it into competitions or get the attention of broadsheets or any of that malarkey, but the cover will be a thing of UTTER GORGEOUSNESS (watch this space for very-soon developments) (fingers crossed) and I am so touched at how many people are helping me to do this.

On which note... my reviewers/quoters have already started sending stuff in and it is all brilliantly wonderful (scroll down for brief highlights).

I haven't a clue how many books I'll sell. People don't spend money lightly, especially in these budget-conscious times. But I'm pretty confident (eek, please let that not be misplaced) that I'll manage the 100 copies I need to go ahead with a print run, and I might even get the 172 sales I'd need to break even. How lovely would that be? Very lovely indeed.

The website launch date is next Thursday, the 5th August, so I have less than a fortnight now to pull everything together. It's pretty daunting, but I'll get there. I'll be sending a mass email out today or tomorrow to let everyone know what's happening and hopefully start building a buzz.

Eeek!

The boring (but exciting!) details: Next Thurs, 5th August, I will be launching my new website, and start taking orders for the book. If everything goes according to plan, the first batch of books will be despatched 2-3 weeks after that. Ways you can help:
- Publicise it to anyone you can
- Host a stop on a virtual book tour (details to follow)
- Buy a copy!

Here are some brief tasters from the reviews / quotes I've had so far:

“A book full of surprises — of titillation, of twists and turns, of fun, revelations and dreams.” - Sue Guiney

“This book is magic. Fresh and entertaining, with genuinely compelling characters and sparkling dialogue.” - Debi Alper

“Original, funny and wonderfully odd.” - Sarah Salway

“An energetic riot of a book, packed with mind-bending mentalism, New Age nonsense and cross-gender bed-hopping. ... Witty, with snappy dialogue and some beautifully-crafted lines.” - Kat Arney

“Turing shows the painful practical limitations of a world of joy. It’s funny, bitter-sweet and disturbing in equal parts. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a novel that’s both entertaining and a feast for the mind.” - Brian Clegg

“If you like an intelligent read that is both thoughtful and entertaining; if you like a book that is well written; if you like something a little out of the ordinary; then I suggest you buy this book.” - Graeme K Talboys

"A fascinating concept, eloquently explored” - Emily Dubberley

“It looks really good. Interesting. Fun.” - Karl Webster, aka Bete de Jour

Yay!!

Sunday, 25 July 2010

A Great Man

In the midst of Book Mania, life goes on. Although in some cases, it doesn't.

My grandfather died just over a week ago. He was 95 years old. He was amazing.

He was a pioneer in many ways. He was a staunch cradle catholic, but a radical one. He was a member of a group of radical Catholics who made a point of discussing and questioning their beliefs, and not always toeing the papal line. He had six children, and was always a hands-on dad. He shared housework and childcare equally with my grandmother, and never even considered there was another way of living life. His mother was a formidable woman, immensely intelligent and a feminist before her time. My favourite story about my father's childhood was always the one about how Grandad would line all six of them up on the kitchen table and clean hands, faces and knees in a production-line row.

He had various jobs, but eventually he trained as a teacher. He worked in the primary school at which Queenie's grandfather was the headmaster. Queenie and I discovered this by accident, when her father spotted my (surprisingly unusual) surname on the spine of my first novel, which she was proudly showing him ("my friend wrote this!"). Queenie's father, when he heard the news, described my grandfather thus: "A super good top bloke, albeit a bit eccentric ... he improved lots of children's lives." Grandad broke new ground by being the first teacher in a special unit designed to cater for children whose behavioural difficulties meant they couldn't survive in mainstream schooling. At the time this was a very new concept. But he never rated himself as a teacher and was always modest.

My grandmother - his wife - died when she was 80, 17 years ago. Towards the end of her life she became increasingly infirm, but Grandad did everything he could to keep her at home, and despite several stays in hospital she died at home. He looked after her like he had always looked after people. He was devoted to her. Grandma really was a little eccentric, and could be occasionally awkward, but I never saw him be anything other than patient and affectionate with her.

It was hard to believe he had been alive so long - he always seemed so young. I have video footage of him running around and chasing after my eldest son when he was a toddler, about six years ago. And I remember another day, a year or so after that, when he spontaneously started kicking a ball around a field with my son.

Towards the end he developed Alzheimers, but it wasn't obvious. He still had a lot to say about things that interested him, and he always played with children that crossed his path.

When I was little, I remember how he had a repertoire of tricks and games designed to entertain children. He could make a funny noise by squeezing his hands together. He had some clever magic trick involving string. He could make it seem like his hands and knees were topologically impossible by crossing his hands back and forth across his knees (blimey, that's hard to describe. If you've seen it done, you'll know what I mean). And he used to recite a strange little rhyme while moving his finger around in a slow spiral which ended up with a tickle and a poke to the midriff. I never forgot the words, and I always loved it. I've written it down below, and it looks almost indecent written down. It really ought to have been scary, but it never was. It was just wonderfully weird. I think that must have been because Grandad could never have been scary.

Eerie, eyrie, iggery um
Filthsome foulthsome dicksome John
Squeemy squirmy squangulum man
Squingulum squangulum
BUCK!

He had a very distinctive voice. I can close my eyes and hear it now. The closest I can think of is Patrick Moore, although Grandad was never posh. His voice was warm, and twinkly, and hugsome. I might miss his voice more than anything.

I just spent a few days at my parents' house, and understandably they are in turmoil. But shining through despite everything. I was worried that me and my two sons might just create more work for them, particularly as my oldest was quite ill and my youngest is at an age (just turned two) when he doesn't know the meaning of the word "quiet" and demands high levels of attention at all times. But they both found comfort in the company of their grandsons. There's nothing quite like being commanded by a bossy toddler to squish into a small shed and stand on chairs whilst nursing a teddy that is apparently a baby... to take your mind off your woes.

My mother's father, my other grandfather, had his 100th birthday party a few months ago. He is currently very ill in hospital. But he is still very much himself and within a day had learnt all the nurses' names. I'm thinking of him. He too is amazing.

Grandad's funeral is this Wednesday. I haven't cried properly yet. Apparently the priest is famous for being welcoming to children, which is just as well: Grandad died with nine great grandchildren, four of whom were born this spring, so it's lovely that he held out this long. I envisage myself standing in floods of tears while my youngest runs riot at my feet. Which I think Grandad would thoroughly approve of.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

You Need Glasses

This one's great too.



And this one!



by Lucy Pepper.

Clever Peeps

I've just been watching videos made by that clever Lucy Pepper woman. This is my favourite:



But if you follow this link you'll find Dead Sad Song and Girl on a Train, which are also good.

She is also a whizz at book cover design. Just so's you know.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

You talking to me?

"Now then, I'll just empty that wet load of washing and carry it upstairs, then I can bring another dirty load down again."

"But I'll have to empty the wet stuff out before I can use the basket again."

"And I can't hang it up, because the drier is in Son Number Two's bedroom and he isn't asleep yet."

"How about I fetch the dirty stuff down first, empty it out, and then fill the basket with wet stuff?"

"Ooh, that's a good idea. Why didn't I think of that?"

"You did."

"Oh yeah."

Friday, 9 July 2010

Review Copy done!

YAY!!!!!!!



I finished the edit. Not only that but my brilliant wonderful LOVELY designer, Lucy Pepper, has knocked up a quick cover for the review copies. Which actually means all those lucky reviewers will be getting something a lot smarter than was originally planned. It is all way too tedious and complicated to go into detail, but suffice to say what was going to be A4 comb-bound is now an actual Lulu paperback. Reviewers will receive them next week.

Above is just the cover of the review copies. The final thing is still being worked on. The (rather gorgeous) illustration was done by my old friend Francis Blake.

Spine:

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Pretty Pretty!

Ooh, I have the actual watercolour-on-paper version of the cover illustration. I also have all the sketches and notes which led to the final thing. It's beeyootiful. I'm gonna hang it on my wall.

Oof. Only three hours sleep last night. Suspect same tonight. Up late editing. Youngest has been ill. And I suddenly realised today that it's all very well calculating the costs of binding the review copies, but I also need to print the damn things. Hmm, money versus time. Argh.

Sorry, I have nothing else to write about. All very dull. Must go drink coffee.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Forward Movement

OK, yeah, it was pretty predictable that I would fall behind schedule... but I am making progress. The edit will be finished SOON. Honest. Although it might be finished quicker if I didn't keep getting distracted by faffing about with cover designs.

This is ridiculous because I am NOT A DESIGNER and the only tools I have at my disposal are Microsoft Paint and, er, Microsoft Paint. But my excuse du jour today was that I will have finished review copies to print next week (as long as I stop faffing) and they will need a cover. And the finished design-done-by-an-actual-designer probably won't be ready by then.

So. Now I feel the need to share.

MASSIVE CAVEAT: I AM NOT A DESIGNER.

Edit: Sorry, but I realised it was utterly pointless of me to post it here like that. It was just me playing around with images, and was hopeless as an actual design for a book cover. I liked the way it looked, because I liked the colours and stuff, but it would never pass muster as a book cover so there was no way anyone could truly say "Wow, that's amazing" without having to lie through their teeth. So I've removed it. It was done by me, using Microsoft Paint, whereas the actual thing will be done by professional deigners using professional software, so will / should look completely different.

In other news, I am starting a New Job in my New Career soon, and had my first day there yesterday, and have spent all day today doing that cringey thing when you remember something you did or said and go "Ouch, no, I didn't really, did I?" followed by a wince and then fingers in the ears and shouting "Lalala, I'm not listening" to myself when I try and replay nasty memory recordings to myself. I'm looking forward to being an established member of staff and not having to the newbie-making-an-impression thing any more. Still, the good news is that I hunted the Big Boss down and made him sit down with me and negotiate a better starting salary, and he didn't throw me out on my ear. He did make me put it in writing though.

"Dear Big Boss,

I am ace. Obviously this means I need a shedload more money than those other sad plebs. Gimme gimme gimme.

Snogs,
Beleaguered Squirrel.
xxx"

That should work, no?

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Awwwwwwwwwww

I don't know what you think of soap operas and frankly I don't much care, because I just watched an episode of Emmerdale that moved me in the nicest possible way.

There's been an ongoing storyline for months: Teenage hooligan goes increasingly off the rails and finally has to admit he's gay. He's a laddish lad full of anger and aggression - beating people up, getting into trouble with the police, generally being a pain. And for a while he was full of self-directed homophobia, refusing to accept any common ground with all those nancying bloody queer folk, and assuming that any acknowledgement of his sexuality would mean his whole life imploding and nobody speaking to him ever again. And then he tried to kill himself, and he nearly went to prison, and ohmyGod his Self Destruct button was like some giant carbuncle on the end of his nose just waiting to pop.

Aaaanyway. Some of it has been a bit extreme, as is the way with dramatified wotsits, but sadly homophobia is alive and well and there really are teenage boys out there killing themselves, being beaten up, generally wallowing in mires of confusion and angst, and all because of homophobia.

I've heard people defend the use of "gay" as an insult, on the basis that they don't mean it like that. They are being ironic and cool and all their gay mates understand that it's only a joke.

I have a friend whose son, when he was five, had a best friend who was a boy. They were inseparable and started to say that they wanted to marry each other when they grew up. They were already using "gay" as an insult, because it's standard playground language. But at that point he had no idea what gay actually meant. Then one day he asked his mum. She explained it to him, and he made the connection. So if he and his mate married, that would mean they were gay? That awful thing that nobody wanted to be? He was horrified. He was angst-ridden about it for ages. He kept picking over it and trying to find some alternative explanation. Of course at that age nobody could say whether he would turn out gay or not, and it really shouldn't have mattered. But it did.

Whenever somebody uses the word gay as an insult, there is a teenager somewhere listening in and hating themselves.

I was in a local secondary school the other day and I saw a poster on the wall: "Zero tolerance for racism and homophobia." I was SO impressed. I saw a documentary on the holocaust recently and there was a section on teaching the topic to teenagers in history lessons. The pupils were asked which groups were persecuted by the Nazis. They came up with all of them: Jewish people, old people, disabled people, socialists, etc... but they missed out gays and their teacher didn't correct them. Indeed he had a pre-prepared list with everyone listed... except gay people. I was shocked. But homosexuality is STILL something that isn't much talked about in schools. The Tories have a lot to answer for. I haven't forgotten all their crimes from first time round. Grrrr.

Anyway. I'm getting distracted. What I wanted to say was that there have been several great bits about the way Emmerdale has handled this. One of them is the way his family (the Dingles), who are all butch and gruff and traded a lot of homophobic banter before they knew he was gay, have all rallied round and done their best to help him accept himself. And tonight, he finally kissed another boy. And it made me go awwwww. They were tentative and awkward and kept misunderstanding each other and were worried that maybe the other one didn't fancy them after all and it was all scary and nerve-wracking and it took me straight back to being a teenage girl in love with other girls, and all the terror and confusion that went with that, but then.... aaaaah. They kissed. And then they did that mad grinny thing you do when you've finally got to kiss the person you've fancied for ages and it's LOVELY and you can't stop smiling.

[happy sigh]

Awww.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Cover Girl

Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!

We have a final image for the cover. And I love it! I particularly love the covers. And I love the plan for the cover. It's going to be really clean and simple, just one big bold colourful energetic picture, the title, the author's name (I've decided on Alice Turing) and on the back nothing at all except a small vignette at the bottom. Matt finish. Yay! The lettering will be drawn by the illustrator, rather than trying to find the right font. It gives it a more organic feel.

I'm really excited about it. This cover is going to be sooooooooo much better than my other books so far.

It's still under wraps for now, but once we have a final cover design, I'll post something up. Meeting with the designer tomorrow, all going well.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Anal Info

Have I blogged about this before? I'm not sure. Well anyway.

In the last few years it seems to have become a blog etiquette thingy that bloggers must answer each comment individually, and make direct reference to the things that were said.

I guess a lot of commenters don't read the other comments and don't care how the blogger responds to them, but I'm kind of anal, as well as nosy, so I tend to read the whole lot. And then get really annoyed, because the blogger's response will typically look like this:

"Mr Smartypants, you know what? I think you're right.

HedgehogInABlender, I thought so too, but then I read Tolstoy and all was revealed.

ABCToG, I expect so. Apart from the plums.

Pantygirdle, hahahahahahaaaaaaaaa!"

...and so on. Sometimes there will have been double-figures-worth of comments before this happens, and although I may be anal and nosy, I'm not quite so intrigued that I can be bothered scrolling up and down to cross-reference every comment to its response. Even responses to my own comments often leave me a little stumped cos I can't remember what I said in the first place.

In fact it's surprisingly easy to either quote a line from the original comment or otherwise make your response make sense so that everyone will understand what the hell you're on about and not just the person you're aiming it at.

I'm not singling anyone out here. You all do it, you bastards. Well, most of you.

So anyway: STOP IT.

Thankyou. That is all.

Squashed Flat!

My littlest got his finger slammed shut in a door last week.

Flat as a pancake it was, and it kind of popped at one end.

Oh that's weird, I did it again. "One end?" said my mum. "Surely you mean the end?" and I suppose I do, but fingers have two ends, don't they? It's just that one is attached to the rest of the hand and is unlikely to pop when slammed shut in a door.

Anyway. He was weirdly unfazed by it all, as was I. "It's only a finger, don't worry," I said to his big brother who was busy having hysterics, although it turned out he didn't find out until the next day that his little bro hadn't fallen down the stairs. I think it was the blood that did it, as it did rather get spread over everything and made things look worse than they were. Anyway, the unfazedness of Son Number Two was probably connected to my own tranquility, which was really just a steadfast refusal to think too much about the squashed-flat-ness and focus instead on its amazing bounce-back-to-life-ness which occurred only minutes later and made me think I had imagined the squish. But I knew the bones of young people are bouncy and hard to break (they weren't broken).

He's now very pleased with the succession of multicoloured socks which have been put over the bandage to stop it falling off. When his nan asked about it on the phone, he chuntered out one of those long toddler sentences that make no sense to anyone but the toddler, and waved his hand enthusiastically at the earpiece so she could see.

Some friend of my mum - in the middle of the night, when half asleep - once put her baby down on the floor, then pulled down a hinged spare bed from the wall, sat on the bed, bent down and picked her baby up... only she couldn't, because the baby had become myseriously glued to the floor. She tugged at it for a while before she realised that she was sitting on the bed, whose leg was placed firmly on the leg of the baby (who had already been crying anyway, and the mum didn't understand the increase in intensity). Anyway. The baby's leg looked proper-squished, for a few minutes, but then it pinged back into shape and the baby was fine. And is now an unmaimed adult.

Not that I'm recommending anyone drop weights on young children or find other creative ways of squishing their bones...

Eek. This post will go horribly wrong unless I stop digging. Seriously. Son Number Two got lots of cuddles and we were all very perturbed and are now terribly anal about propping the front door open and watching out for the tiniest gusts of wind (it blew shut, you see).

I found myself wincing and closing one eye when someone blogged about cats in distress this week, and felt slightly sick when I returned to find nothing new had been posted to distract me from the cats. Have I just committed the same sin? Hmm. Possibly I have. No babies were harmed in the making of... well actually... oh dear.

It Never Ends

Oh, woe is me. I am some kind of major fool masochist. So there I was, nearing the end of the hardest nine months of my life courtesy of my new career, and what do I do? Pile a load of new pressure on myself, that's what. Why did I decide to publish a book on my own exactly now?

Because I wanted to. Oh.

Well, anyway. The bloody thing still isn't edited, and there are various tedious hold-ups and setbacks...

Oh well, actually the "setbacks" consisted of me being slightly paranoid, which has just been unconfirmed by email.

My main problem is that what I really need right now is the freedom to say "When the kids are in bed I will kick back, watch telly, drink beer and sleep as much as I damn well please" for the first time in a long time... except I can't cos I have to finish this edit.

Oh well. I brought it on myself. And now I'd better get back to it.

I'll just rabbit a little more first.

Of course there are the usual self-hating woes, but I do have a recurring habit of focusing on one small flaw and deciding the whole edifice is a pile of shit. Which really isn't true, and anyway all the flaws are fixable. Which of course means more editing... but it's worth it. It has to be good.

Coming soon: Blog posts about stuff other than books. Maybe.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

In a name

I have no name!

I did have one, but it's a bit broke cos of negative associations. Then I had another one but it turns out to also belong to some Scottish liberal democrat.

I need a pseudonym that sounds like a real person, but is a bit distinctive, a bit sassy, a bit clever... argh. I really don't mind if it's actually quite ordinary, I just have to feel like it could be me.

It's horribly difficult. All suggestions welcome.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Va Va Voom*

I can't get started today. This might be because I am suffering from up-late droopiness. Or because said up-lateness was caused by me crafting an email for potential reviewers, telling them how delightful it would be to receive a proof copy of my book. Or because I'm a workshy eejit who never starts work as soon as she reaches her desk.

Anyway, I'm all keyed up. I sent extracts out with that late-night email, so people could get a hint of what an amazing book mine is [cough]. So this marks the first time in a long while that I've pushed that child onto a stage and asked her to perform.

I've been flitting between periods of gloom this week. I've come to the end of an intense period in my new career. I'm suffering the comedown from that, as well as some doubts about whether my life isn't just one long catalogue of Bad Decisions. And I've been editing the book, which - particularly as I haven't read it myself for over a year - means the usual rollercoaster of "It's brilliant!" "It's terrible!" from one moment to the next. It does mean I have a fresh perspective on which extracts will showcase it most effectively. But one of the people I approached last night has already responded, and one of the actually-very-helpful things she said was that a random set of unconnected extracts don't give her a proper idea of the book. She would need to see, just as an agent or publisher would, the first three chapters. She makes a good point. I only thought of the extracts as teasers, to give an idea of my writing style and convince people to request a review copy and see the whole thing properly, but what she said still applies.

The "she" in question is Nicola Morgan, who writes the "Help! I Need a Publisher!" blog, and is an all-round good egg. She wrote a blog post about me and my plight a while back. She responded incredibly quickly to yesterday's email, and in a lot of detail. Sadly she can't write a review, but I understand why.

Anyway. Two people have already said yes, but now instead of getting on and editing the damn thing, I'm watching my inbox. Gah.

I'm only halfway through the edit, and of course the schedule has slipped. The design meeting was cancelled because the illustration wasn't ready yet, and there's no way I'll be getting the review copy off to Lulu this week as planned. I thought I would do a quick edit - just tighten the prose. But in the process I've noticed a couple of weak areas that would benefit from some focused work. And I really really want this book to be good, and it's great to have the perspective of returning to it after a long break, and I want to make the most of it. So I've added a fortnight to the schedule, and I think that works.

Sorry, this post is getting boring now: Feel free to wander off.

The big areas of work are (a) editing the manuscript, (b) getting the cover finished, and (c) setting up a campaign (website, emails, Facebook group etc) to persuade people to buy the book in advance. Maybe I'm going overboard. Maybe I have enough friends and family who would buy copies with minimum encouragement. But what if I don't? Huh? How awful would it be if I had to refund everyone's money because there wasn't enough to fund the print run? And anyway... this is the bit I like. "Look at me!" I shout with glee.

But isn't this what I was trying to get away from? The jostling for attention, followed by disappointment when the only response is a pooch on the pavement licking my hand? Um... no. No, I don't think so. My expectations are low, and they have an end point. Instead of the moving-goalpost aim of more and more people buying my book, all I need is a discrete number. Then the book will be printed, dispatched and that will be that. I'll carry right on with my life. In the corner of my study will be one proud copy of one beautiful book. There won't be boxes and boxes of the damn thing staring at me reproachfully every time I open the cupboard door. Just one. And I will love it.


*When I started this post, I mistyped the title as "Va Va Vom". I need to file that one away for a dynamic post about sick.**

**Sorry.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Wing Dust

I've been editing all day. Goalposts are moving and the book cover won't be ready for another couple of weeks yet. The review copy, which I was hoping would go to press this week, might take a little longer too.

The good news is I like this book, and I'd enjoy reading it if I hadn't written it. No matter how many times I edit it, it always wants more work, so it needs pinning to history like a butterfly in a museum case; taking beyond my reach to preserve the dust on its wings.

I'm more excited about the reality of this book than I ever was by my other published works. Being in proper control of its physical being makes a huge difference. The others, when they arrived, were anticlimaxes. I already knew I didn't like the covers very much, so holding them in my hand was no big deal.

This one has to be different.

Bullet Holes

I can't stop thinking about the Cumbrian shootings.

These things are always shocking, but this happened in an area of the country I know very well. I know some of the characters affected, albeit vaguely. But I've met them. I've been there. Members of my family are there now (but not directly affected).

I've always been fascinated by the extreme. I've read and written fictions about people hiding out in remote countryside locations from menacing figures with weapons. The basis for these wild imaginings has always been Eskdale, just because I know it so well. But I find it almost impossible to believe that something real, as preposterous as the scenarios played out in my head, has actually happened there.

I want to know what was in his head, what he was thinking, how he felt, how someone can do something like that. WHY. And not just because I'm shocked and horrified, which obviously I am. But because I'm intrigued. How does it happen? What is the process? Was he always a little mad, or did it happen suddenly? We'll never really know.

I've tried writing fiction in which people do extreme things, and it doesn't work. Maybe because I've never done anything like that myself, never could. My emotions are extreme but my actions never have been. I can't imagine myself into such a situation, not convincingly, neither as victim nor perpetrator.

It's hard to believe it's true. They moved Coronation St on location for the day, right?

I can't think of a suitable way to end this post. It's tempting to post platitudes such as "my heart goes out..." or "condolences..." just in case anyone seriously affected by today's events happens to stumble by. But it would be hollow and insincere, a passing nod to propriety. This is all fiction to me. I can't seem to make it real.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Cool Reception

Yesterday my son got given a helicopter ride as a birthday present from his doting nan. Said ride happened at a Country Show at a stately home in Yorkshire, a weirdly posh-but-not-posh event. By chance he ended up getting the helicopter ride with the children of the people who owned the helicopter. I suppose this means they were rich, but they didn’t look it to my untutored wouldn’t-know-a-designer-label-if-it-bit-her-on-the-arse eye. They were wearing jumpers and jeans. Anyway. After the ride, the father of these other children asked my son what he thought of it. “It was cool,” said my son. “We don’t use words like that,” said the man. So I laughed heartily. I assumed he was joking.

His face said he wasn’t. I struggled to take any of it seriously and had to exit quickly.

People are weird.

Stuff Going On

I've just come to the end of a particularly intense project in my new career, not much sleep etc, and now I have a week off. Which means I get to catch up with the rest of my life, not least a humungous quantity of housework, but crucially I get to be ALONE. Oh, it's like plunging into a warm pool under a sunlit sky. I get to be in my own home for a long period of time with no urgent deadlines and nothing stressful to do in the morning and all small people safely dispatched unto the care of others' hands.

So now I can focus on my book. This means spending most of my spare time editing a final draft, to be Lulued into review copies. But also...

For the past month the illustrator has been cogitating over the cover, and this weekend he came up with a couple of tentative draft images. This bit is HARD. Thank God he's a professional illustrator with decades of experience and knows what he's doing, cos I sure as hell don't. I can say what I don't like, but what I'm crap at is imagining a preferable alternative. The drafts have energy and humour, and I'm worried our tinkerings might stamp that out, but I think between us we'll get there. His wise voice is reminding me that it doesn't have to be literal. That what we are trying to do is capture the spirit of the book, and make people want to read it. And that if there is sex in the title, there probably has to be sex on the cover.

Yesterday we swapped pictures and thoughts, and this afternoon we'll be doing more of the same. It'll be ongoing all week. I have a meeting with the designers on Thursday, but we've agreed that we're not aiming to have a finished illustration by then, as that might put us in too much of a rush. This isn't to be hurried. We hope to have it nailed by next week though.

What's lovely about all this is that the illustrator is doing this for love, not money. We are old friends and he really cares that we produce something lovely. Of course I feel guilty about not being able to pay him much, but I just have to try not to think of it like that.

In the past I've done things like this and been terrified of offering an opinion or making any demands on people who clearly know more than me and who are anyway doing me a favour, but I've learnt it's pointless to think that way. This is my book, and my opinion matters. But I also have to trust in others' creative ability. Eek. The meeting with the designers will be interesting, too - particularly as we might not have a finished image to work with, but it's only an initial meeting.

So I'll be seeing Francis (the illustrator) on Friday, when I go and stay with him in London, and hopefully we'll have a tentative design to look at by then, as well.

My other reason for being in London is Stan, aka Bete de Jour, aka Karl's party. I found him fascinating even before I read his book and decided he wasn't real. Now he's admitted he isn't real. Or at least, I think he has. I probably found out who he was by accident a few months ago, so I think I already know. But anything could happen on Friday. Including bugger all. We have a back-up plan, Francis and I, just in case. I love London. I'll be there less than 24 hours (motherhood, motherhood, motherhood) but I'll make the most of it. Time for me has been scant for the last nine months, so this is a rare treat.

I thought about posting the draft book cover images here, but won't yet. We wouldn't tell people what names we were considering for the babies in my belly, either. It's the same thing. Unfinished creations are uniquely vulnerable to criticism, and sometimes even two opinions are confusing enough, never mind any more.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Rotting Flesh

Now that we've had some daylight I've been able to investigate the stink-in-the-flowerbed situation further. I did have a theory at one point that I was about to discover something dead... and it seems now that I was right. It wasn't a stinky toadstool.

IT WAS A DEAD BODY.

Sunlight revealed maggots, slimy gloopy stuff, and a bone.

And that half-a-potato thing? It was half a bloody potato! The whole thing is next to our compost heap, which might explain that. The bone, we think, was buried by our dog in the first place. It was probably Sunday Dinner pickings, stolen and then carted off. The potato may even have come from the same source, because after all why would we put half a potato into the compost? We don't put foody leftovers in there, just veg that have gone off / sprouted. And peelings. And tea leaves.

It must have had a lot of meat still on though, to have gone so foul. But there was no hair or skin or fur or anything, and only one bone, which was too large to have come from the kind of small creature that might die naturally in our garden.

So. Dead lamb. Or maybe chicken. Or pig. But still no explanation for any previous stinks. I feel slightly dissatisfied. This ain't over yet.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Caninus Mutinus

Aha!

I reckon it's a dog stinkhorn. Mutinus caninus (what a great name).

Look! Half a potato! Apparently these are called the "eggs":



I haven't yet seen these things (I suspect the dog obliterated them), but aren't they utterly, magnificantly phallic?



"It has some disgusting mushroom fruit that looks like a dog d*ck with the tip dipped in sh*t."

Although I've never actually seen one of these dog-dick thingies. Anyway this one will be bagged and binned tomorrow. Apparently they don't normally sprout dicks until July, so it might still have been at the egg stage. Gawd knows.

Mysterious Stinky Thing in my Flower Bed

So, every year at about this time we have had Bad Drain smells in our garden. This has been going on for over ten years. I always spend a few days sniffing at drains and being mystified when our drains appear to in fact be fine.

A few times I've decided the stink was coming from the earth in our flower beds, but could never narrow it down to a specific location. I've wondered a few times if it was actually a Bad Drain smell that was heavier than air, sinking down to ground level and then drifting about aimlessly, hence hard to locate.

I've had this lingering paranoia that we have a broken sewer gradually seeping shit into our earth, but had no idea how to ascertain whether this was true or not, or what to do about it if it was, so shoved it to the back of my mind.

ANYWAY. Tonight I went in the garden and was hit by how strong it was. And also found the dog had got through the makeshift fence and into the bit she's not allowed in, where she had happily dug a new hole in a flowerbed. Got the dog back inside, and suddenly the stink was all over the house. Took me a while to realise that it was only in whatever room the dog was in. And her feet stank of it. So I checked out the newly-dug hole... yup, it stank of The Stink. Oh no, I thought. I was right. We have earth full of sewage. So I took the torch out, and found... really weird stuff in the earth, where the dog had dug a hole.

There was a load of crumbly whitish-coloured stuff, a bit like soggy chalk or crumbly cheese. It stank of The Stink. There was also a thing that looked rather like a potato chopped in half. You know the patterns you get in the cross-section of a potato, kind of radiating out from the centre? Kind of like that, and shrivelled at the edges, like a dried-out half-potato. But also slightly spongy, and grey. I didn't investigate very far, cos it was dark, and it stinks. Although you have to get your nose quite close to it to smell it. But sadly I got some of the crumbly stuff on my fingers and the smell won't wash off. But again I have to put my nose close to smell it. But anyway. There was a significant quantity of the weird crumbly stuff, like, more than a handful, and it looked like it might extend deeper. The half-potato thing looked like it might also be crumbly and like the other stuff if I was to break it apart.

So, could it be some kind of stinky fungus? Maybe it's been there for years and comes into some kind of Pong Season at this time of year? Any Smelly Fungus experts out there?

[update: see here]