We've friends coming to stay in the week, so this Sunday will be devoted to cleaning the house - or making a start on it, at least.
Cleaning is way away from my favourite occupation. When I was young and living with my mother and grandparents I managed to get away with not doing much. With my stepfather I had to do some dusting and polishing on Saturday morning, of the furniture that was never actually used. Then I went away to boarding school where there were people employed to do it for us. My favourite was the old Austrian Jewish woman Eva, who would shout and wave her broom at us for coming in onto "my floors mit der shoes on"
Of course this blessed situation didn't last forever, as anyone who's trodden on a Lego brick in the middle of the night will know. But the endless repetition never endeared my to the activity. So today I'm mucking out the bathroom, and taking the opportunity to get rid of some useless things that seem to have gravitated there. Silver linings and all that.
Normal service might be resumed next Sunday. Or maybe not.
Broom By Pearson Scott Foresman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I've always been a game player. When I was little it was pontoon on Sunday evenings with my grandparents, using a tin of old farthings as chips. Or Threes and Fives dominos with the set they had owned since the early twentieth century, made of ebony and ivory in the days when ivory was an acceptable material to use.
Our very first computer was won in a raffle at our church in Bristol. It was a now-unknow make, and came with just two game cartridges, and I was hooked immediately. We rapidly acquired a Sinclair Spectrum ZX in five amazing colours, where we made the acquaintance of Dizzy, that egg with boxing gloves because apparently they couldn't draw hands. Then various Amigas with their full-colour graphics and Lemmings.
The heyday was then, with Settlers, Civilisation, and Colonisation - the old man still plays Civ on an antique Amiga which continues by the grace of God and eBay to work. Playing those gave me the opportunity to be nasty - make treaties, build up my strength and then make a sneak attack, or send in a spy and steal technology or foment a rebellion. Things I would never do in real life because they are just plain wrong. Fun though, and playing against a computer opponent nobody is hurt.
Now of course there are scads of games, both online and offline, from simple solitaires to huge playing areas with zombies, pirates, aliens, and anything else you can think of. And I still, in my sixties, play. Just a kid at heart, you may say, but there's something more to it than that.
They say that reading fiction improves ones empathy. Playing games improves ones life skills as well. And for a writer it can perform the same function as taking a shower. Not in cleaning ones person, but have I ever mention shower inspiration to you? Writers will know what I mean. It's the moment when ones surface mind is occupied with something, leaving the subconscious to roam freely until like a pop-up toaster it produces an answer to ones problems with plot or character.
Games don't just give my mind the opportunity to freewheel though. There are lessons to be learned about life as well.
Sometimes you do everything right in the game. You plan the fall of the tiles (my particular weakness is those match three type games), you build up your stack of counters, and then wham. A freak sideways slide by one tile and the whole strategy unravels and you're left with Game Over and no lives left. And then at other times the tiles fall sweetly and the level that has kept you blocked for days just falls away in front of you with a record high score. In neither case have you actually done anything to deserve the result. It's just freaky luck.
I'm not going to belabour that point, but instead this: I'm not naturally a patient person. The worst thing in my life was when I was pregnant and had to wait a whole nine months to find out the sex of the babies (they didn't do that as routine in those days), who they looked like, and what their personalities were like. Honestly, it drove me nuts.
Playing games has begun to teach me to wait, in the knowledge that sooner or later it will come right. I don't say that it's easy, or that the process has anywhere near finished. There have been occasions when I've given up playing a particular game completely for several days at a time (looking at you, Gardenscapes) in frustration at not being able to get past a level which is supposed to be an easy one. But eventually I go back and have another try, and like I said above, the tiles just cascade away and I'm on a run again.
So in my writing life I just have to put up with the block, keep nibbling away at it in the knowledge that this too will end, there will be a flash of shower inspiration, or game inspiration, and I'll be off again, unshackled. Which is what I hope happens every November during NaNoWriMo. It hasn't failed me yet, though sometimes it's a bit of a slog at one point or another. And in life as in writing. Sometimes it's a slog and I doubt whether I will get through it, but sooner or later the tiles cascade down, the block is gone and I'm off again.
Quick answer - no I'm not. There you are, no need to read any further.
On the other hand, and I'm glad you asked, here's the long answer.
No actually my data wasn't stolen. It seems I never answered that quiz or survey or whatever it was, nor did any of my many friends. I've done plenty of them over time, just must have missed that particular one. So it's all a bit academic anyway. And as I'm a British citizen living in Britain I was never going to vote for Trump in the first place. (Or the last place either from what I've seen.)
How many of us have made a spelling mistake when filling in a paper form asking for a catalogue or some such? And then a few weeks later, or for the rest of your life, you keep getting junk mail from a variety of firms with exactly that spelling mistake perpetuated? What did you do? Probably the same as I did, bitch and grumble and throw it in the recycling.
The same with advertisements on Facebook, except that it's easier to train your eye to glide past them without really registering them and they don't fill up your paper recycling bin. I've only ever bought one thing from a Facebook advertisement. A couple of years ago I got a T shirt which reads on the front "Never underestimate a woman who graduated from Cambridge". Now I admit it wasn't cheap, but what fancy T shirt is these days? I liked it. And for a while after I bought it I got lots of ads trying to sell me shirts saying "Never underestimate a woman who listens to Leonard Cohen" (which I do, so I suspect they got into my data at that point) and various other fairly appropriate messages. But here's the thing, I didn't buy any more T shirts.
Because I have agency. I'm not a zombie who glassy-eyed goes out and does what the latest advertisement tells me. I can choose whether or not to take that action. And I promise you, game apps, that nothing on this earth will ever persuade me to play bingo, slots, or poker on-line. No matter how many times you run the ads.
The thing is that out here in the arse-end of nowhere population is low. I'm ten miles from my daughter, we do go to a great creative writing group, but basically there aren't too many people around with my exact profile of interests. With Facebook I have contact with people all around the world. I'm in groups for writing, writing historical fiction, taking part in NaNoWriMo, listening to Leonard Cohen, using an Instant Pot, Thermomix, and air fryer, knitting machines, my old college and university, and one for pupils of my old school. I'm never lonely, there's always someone out there posting. In fact I have to admit to not reading absolutely everything because life is too short even when you're retired.For a know-it-all like me it's golden.
I use the Facebook instant messaging a lot, too. Setting up a meet with old school friends? Group message. Being called in for babysitting duties by my daughter? She messages me. An invitation to attend the Scouts and Beavers fun day next Saturday? Link provided. It's free, it's quick, it works.
And I would guess that, after a blip of people cancelling their accounts with Facebook it will prove to be just too useful to ignore. Stock prices will drop for a bit - good chance to buy in, if you have any money going spare and live in the US - but will recover in the long term, Until the next big thing comes along of course. Until then I'm sticking with it, though I probably won't be buying any more T shirts. I'm still working my way through those old Discworld Convention ones. Which I bought at the conventions, not on-line.
I was reading a blog by Kristine Kathryn Rusch a moment ago, about the widespread view amongst artists that curing their alcoholism, depression, and the like would lead to them losing their .. inspiration, whatever you like to call it. Killing their muse. It's a good blog, as all of hers are. I simply had to drop it though and come here to write this. Not literally, it's online, so it's still there waiting for me to get back to it. But you know, with my old lady memory I couldn't risk forgetting what I had thought.
It brought to the front of my mind the observation that I've often made, that many great writers have had lousy childhoods. A larger proportion than one would expect. And though I wouldn't care to put myself forward as a great writer, I would include myself in the miserable childhood section of the community.
Don't worry, I'm not going to write a misery memoir, now or at any point. My infuriatingly cheery, optimistic nature leads me to conclude that whereas some bits of it were totally dark, I also met a lot of lovely people who helped me along my way. The sun did shine in those days. And I would never advocate that you make your children's lives a misery in the hope that they will somehow turn into great writers.
But this time I took my thoughts a little bit further.and considered what my miserable childhood made me do. It made me spend a lot of my life immersed in books as an escape from real life. I would read more or less any book that came my way, from public libraries, gifts from a generous uncle at Christmas, or just lying around the place.
Result: a rich vocabulary, a grasp of grammar, and an imagination stimulated by tales of Narnia, space stations, and Regency gentlemen. From there it wasn't a big step to take that imagination and start crafting stories of my own, in which I was big and brave, and had a family that loved me and who would do anything I wanted because they loved me so. And later on those Regency gentlemen, thank you Georgette Heyer. Oh, those Regency gentlemen.
So there it is. Rather than torturing your offspring (unless you have other reasons to do so of course) give them books, encourage them to read. Don't complain that they always have their noses stuck in books. Don't say they should be out playing war or cowboys and indians instead of moping around the house reading. Encourage them to read as much as they want, whether it's dead tree books or electronic ones.
And you never know, they may be able to support you in your old age on their earnings as great authors, if you're really lucky. Or at least take you out for a meal from time to time.
... I'm a writer. But before I was a writer, for many years I was a reader. (Well I still am, but I just don't have so much time as I used to.) And for over twenty years now I've read ebooks, first on a small PDA in MS Reader format, then on a Kindle, then a tablet, a Kindle Fire ... well you get the idea. I've been doing this for a long time now.
Now I know that for some reason traditional publishers don't like ebooks. And indeed some readers don't like e-readers. Me, I think they're wonderful, a whole library in something smaller and lighter than one paperback. My friend and I used to buy our handbags big enough to take a paperback book, and that is no longer necessary. Admittedly my handbags have not grown smaller, but then I've had children and grandchildren who need regular nose-wiping etc. Also I've started writing which requires a notebook and half a dozen pens at least just in case I run out. But you see my point.
One of the main attractions for me was that ebooks were considerably cheaper than dead tree books. It made sense to me; no printing costs, no warehousing costs, low distribution costs. To be fair to the consumer of the book the price should reflect this. And I bought lots of ebooks. I mean, two or three thousand by now.
I still buy lots of ebooks. I know I don't purchase the actual book, just the licence to read it, but that's a subject for a different day. I have lots and lots of ebooks and I read and re-read them. Most of them cost me less than £5.99, even the ones from big publishers, but that adds up to a considerable sum of money that has changed hands over the years.
I keep a wish-list which is very long and check daily for price reductions, and at least once a week I buy a book. But recently I've noticed a trend. A couple of ebooks on my list, and one I didn't even bother putting on the list, cost nearly £10. Or putting it another way, not a lot less than the price of the paperback. Indeed I've spotted one or two that were actually more expensive than the paperback.
At the same time I've read lots of articles about how the day of the ebook is over, the market has reached its peak, that sort of thing. Articles based on the sales figures of traditional publishers.
All I can say is are you really surprised? Really? Are you sure? Because I can tell you, I'm not about to pay three times the average price of an ebook for something that's cheaper to produce and distribute than the physical version. The books are on my list because I want to read them. What I intend doing is waiting till the paper version is on the second-hand market and get a second-hand copy.
To all my friends who are authors I'm sorry. I know you don't get anything out of second-hand sales. To all the publishers who thought this was a cunning strategy, you are getting what you deserve. To all my friends who are indie authors and price their product at a sensible level, well done. Your books will sell. I will buy them. They won't of course appear in the statistics, because these show only traditionally published books. To see a set of statistics which attempt to account for all the indie authors as well, you have to turn to Data Guy and his occasional reports. These seem to give ebooks around half the total market
I'll finish up with a couple of quotes from Arnaud Nourry, Chairman and CEO of the Hachette Live Group since 2003, which typify Big Publishing's attitude to ebooks. Make of them what you will.
"It’s not that we’re against ebooks. People have to pay a price that is about 40% lower than the print price. And it works. The ebook market has gone down a little bit, not much, from say 25% to 20% in some countries. There is still a readership for ebooks but at a price that keeps the ecosystem alive."
"There are two different geographies to look at for this. In the US and UK, the ebook market is about 20% of the total book market, everywhere else it is 5%-7% because in these places the prices never went down to such a level that the ebook market would get significant traction. I think the plateau, or rather slight decline, that we’re seeing in the US and UK is not going to reverse. It’s the limit of the ebook format. The ebook is a stupid product. It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic.."
About fifteen years ago I read an article somewhere by somebody. It was a somebody from the Big Howevermany it was then publishing houses, and it stated, categorically, that Regency was dead. Nobody wanted to read Regency any more, so they weren't going to publish Regency any more. I was devastated.
Long ago in my early teens I had discovered Georgette Heyer's books in the school library. I thought they were wonderful - funny, romantic, set in a time very different from the Sixties. Interesting. I read every one I could get hold of, and I even spent my pittance of pocket money on the paperbacks. I was hooked.
Time passed, and I was unfaithful to the Regency. I spent time with science fiction and fantasy, with gritty thrillers and whodunnits. There just weren't enough Heyers to keep me fed. By the turn of the millennium though I had acquired a PDA - remember those? And I used it almost entirely for reading. Science fiction, fantasy, whodunnits. I read whilst being driven to work by my old man, an hour each way every day. At lunch. In the evening. And one day my dealer, the late lamented Fictionwise, gave away a whole shelf-full of ebooks. Hey, they were free. I downloaded the lot.
Some of them were a little bit of a surprise to me, and broadened my horizons no end. But amongst the thirty or so books there was one Regency romance. I read it, and was taken back to my teens, reminded of how much I had loved Heyer. I can even tell you the plot of the book, though the title and author escape me -
And I realised that while I had been absent, people had been writing new Regencies. I was re-hooked. I bought every one I could find on the Fictionwise site. I discovered Mary Balogh and Stephanie Laurens. Regencies had discovered Sex!
And at the back of my mind an idea started forming. What if ...
And then this article. No more Regency. And this was before Indie Publishing was a thing. What the big publishing houses said was what happened, and they had decided that Regency was no more. My idea for a plot, for a Regency romance, withered. But I couldn't kill it completely, it kept coming back and bothering me. What if ... ?
I achieved a lifetime's ambition, early retirement. One part of my retirement gift was a big notepad and a packet of pens, given with the instruction to go and write that book I had been talking about all this time.
And I was still reading Regency, and contrary to what Big Publishing had said, people were still writing it, and they were in fact still publishing it. Pants on fire!
And then I found out about NaNoWriMo, and Indie publishing, and I realised that it didn't matter what Big Publishing said anyway, so I did write that book. And several others. They are sitting on my computer in various states of editing, and by golly I am going to publish them. And we'll see then if Regency is dead or not.
Picture by Ted Eytan MD via Wikimedia Commons.I
I watched the NaNoPrep webinar a couple of days ago. Late as usual - being in a different time zone to most NaNites makes the recording a much more attractive proposition than the live event. And as a throw-away at the end the two authors were asked what was the worst writing advice they had ever been given. And they both came up with the same thing:
Write what you know.
On first sight it seems an attractive slogan. If you're an expert in something, surely it makes sense. And we all do loads of research, writers of historical fiction especially. Who hasn't lost an entire afternoon or more following threads around Google and Wikipedia, ending up bleary-eyed and knowing far more about historical sanitation than they really wanted to know.
And if you get it wrong, there will be plenty of people out there who will let you know all about it. Including me, I'm afraid. I've been known to email authors pointing out embarrassing bloopers in their novels. All in the interest of getting it right, of course.
But I write a lot of the time from my hero's point of view. I am female, straight, white, middle-aged (I insist on not being old) and educated. Does that mean I can't write from the point of view of say a black male who has been a slave on a plantation in the Caribbean, as I intend to do this November in the shape of my hero's sidekick?
Does that mean that writers may not write about little green men from the planet Zog, far far away in another galaxy? Or witches and wizards, fairies and goblins, demons and angels?
I maintain not. If it did mean that, there would be far fewer books written. And I like reading about aliens, elves and fairies, and so on.
The Published Writers, and I when I thought about it, were not saying don't do your research. But broaden the subject out a bit. Of course there's a place for writing what you know. For example if I wrote a book about electrical engineering it could be a bit of a disaster - be reassured that I have no such ambitions, for the general good of mankind.
I think the answer is to put yourself in the place of your ex-slave, green alien, or fairy. Close your eyes and imagine what it feels like. What's it like to have dangly bits, or wings? How does it feel? How does it affect your thinking? Get into your character's skin and know them deep down, as a person and not a character in your writing. When you know how they, not you, would react in a given situation, then you know them well enough to write their story.
So is this writing what you know, or not? I will never really know what it's like to be male. I will always be seeing men from the outside. But I hope I have enough imagination to feel something of how it is, and I hope that any man reading what I've written will not be emailing me to say that that's not what it's like at all.
... and now I face the final curtain. Said curtain being for my new writing shed in France. Or perhaps a blind.
We went to our French house this summer for six weeks, the longest we've ever spent there. And it was wonderful! The indoor plumbing! The electricity supply that didn't bite! The new kitchen!
Just one little thing, or maybe two. We still had the impenetrable jungle outside the back door, True, we no longer had to hack our way through it with a machete in order to reach the outside lavvy. And the perennial sweet peas were colourful, though sadly unscented. But it had to go.
Our builder met up with us in the town where he lived. His instructions "by the anchor roundabout" were surprisingly quite easy to follow. We went to his builder's merchant and spent a vast amount of money on paving slabs, gravel, cement, and semipermeable membrane. The things one learns when having renovations done.
We also took a trip to another builder's merchant to look at sheds. The old man still kept insisting that my writing shed was a low priority. He isn't a writer, of course. But the builder's merchant was having a sale, which trumped his objections. And in the sale was the biggest, bestest shed you've ever seen. It had double doors. It had a little window. It was big enough to get a double bed in, never mind a desk and chair. It was less than half price!
It had also been sitting in their open hangar for a considerable time, but we only found this out later, of course.
So all was set. Our man called in his son-in-law to help with the heavy lifting. The deliveries were timed to perfection.
Well the son-in-law arrived as planned, on the early ferry, and they came straight to us to make a start. Catching us still in bed. Well, I expect my cup of tea in bed in the morning, and the old man is reluctant to get up, especially as he tends to run on English time still, refusing to have anything to do with nasty foreign time which is one hour in advance. I think this has cured him now, at least temporarily. So while we hastily threw on clothes and breakfast and the essential cup of tea all round (I did say our builder and his son-in-law are English, didn't I?) they went and communed with the old shed.
Within a day the old shed was down - well, you've seen the photo. A hard push was about all it took. That and half a dozen trips to the tip with the remains. A cement mixer was borrowed. The weather was set fair.
No delivery. No slabs, gravel, cement, semipermeable membrane. It was only one day late. I love the French in general, but I have to say they can be a bit nonchalant when it comes to things like that.
And the shed. Well it was supposed to arrive in the afternoon, but the guy at the builder's merchants happens to live not far away, and he thought it would be a good idea to deliver it on his way home after work. We sat, and waited. And waited. Our man looked at his watch and phoned his other half. She was not amused. French working hours last an hour longer in the evening because of the longer lunch break. It came eventually. I just hope our man managed to make it up to his lady.
So the next morning I was presented with a pot of wood stain and a set of brushes. You thought because we were paying to have it done we could get away with sitting in the shade watching? Not hardly. I set up the garden umbrella - it was hot and I burn easily. (Sorry everybody in the UK who had a miserable wet summer. The Jet Stream moved. France was south of it, and you were north.)
I started off doing every plank lovingly and artistically. After two days I was slapping woodstain on as fast as I could. The slabs were criticized - not properly square and even. The wooden planks for the shed had warped and weathered in the builder's merchant's store. Roots had to be hacked out. More slabs and gravel had to be bought. There was exactly enough roofing felt for the roof and not a centimetre more. The second shed had to be done - that's the Man Shed as opposed to the Woman Shed. (Not in the sale. It cost twice as much as the Woman Shed in spite of being half the size. I hesitate to draw a conclusion - well, no I don't.) The sheds had to be fixed down to the slabs, and the fittings sold with them were inadequate. Much eye-rolling and harrumphing.
The slabs went down in the end, some of them twice over. The sheds went up. I moved in my flatpack desk, a garden chair, and my computer, and started writing.
The editing proceeded at an amazing pace, after weeks of slow progress - there's something about that special place just for writing that I can't quite explain. Terry Pratchett would call it headology
There is a heater, so we'll have to wait and see how it works out in November.
And now by popular request, Susana,
I'm thinking of putting Astroturf on the floor.
You can't catch anything over the internet, honest.
I've had some sort of virus, which is why I've not written anything for a bit. All I can say is thank goodness it was half term over here.
I managed to drag myself to my two classes earlier this week, so we're still on track for that Certificate in Creative Writing. I managed a short peer review for one of them, and now I have a couple of days to get a beta read done for one of my regulars. I've done some thinking, of dubious quality I have to admit, and had several brilliant insights about the manuscripts I'm not currently editing - thank you, brain. But actual work? Nah.
I have come to one conclusion though. I've heard from several different, unconnected directions that people recommend putting their work up on Wattpad. And as my already-published little book has flatlined, and I"m almost ready to put out a second one, I thought I might just try it for myself.
What do you all think? Leave a comment or drop me a line and tell me.
But not so fast, gentle reader. The inside of the house is done, barring one or two little details, some new doors, redecorating where cupboards have been taken out, the damp patch on the ceiling upstairs, new carpet - well, you get the picture. You're never completely finished with a house.
There remains the outside. I told you last time about looking at paving stones for the patio. That is, I hope, to be put in hand some time over the summer. And would we like a fancy lamp-post thingy to light us if we have an evening meal outside? Why not - he's already put in the basic wiring, after all. And those street lamps are so, well, yellow. I must say I rather fancy sitting out in the cool evening, as long as we can keep the insects away.
The big thing though is my Woman Shed. I want my Woman Shed. The Old Man says it's low down on the list of priorities - well, he would, wouldn't he? He said the same thing about the kitchen, if you remember, and look what happened there. The Old Man has short arms and deep pockets; which comes I have to admit from having been hard up for a lot of our married life. The Old Man also has a tougher skin than I do, and can sit out in the sun without needing to bother with a shed.
I want my Woman Shed. I want a nice big one with room for a desk, electricity for my computer, enough space for the old put-you-up so that it can serve as the overflow bedroom if ever anybody comes to visit. There's an outside tap nearby so I can get water for tea or coffee. There's the outside lavvy, just handy to the side of the shed. The birds will sing, the sun will shine, and I will get so much writing done you won't believe it. I've already bought the booster so that I can get wifi out there. I shall even be able to procrastinate, with Facebook and that new game I discovered.
And I know there are sheds out there just perfect for me. Had it not been for The Kidney Stone Problem we would have been out looking at one recommended by Rod the Electrician and his mate,the Outdoors Man, which even has a little lean-to attached to it, where you can keep your mowers and spades. Which will lock, because some toe-rag nicked our garden fork some time over the winter. It wasn't even a particularly good one. People coming in on the big road and making a clean sweep of everybody's garden shed, according to our neighbour. But I digress.
It's not as if there's anything wonderful there at the moment anyway. A shed constructed of rotting timber, breeze blocks, and internal bricks - those French ones that crumble when exposed to wet, frost, and time. A dirt floor. A wooden extension at one end that the previous owner used to house his chickens. The look of the garden would be so much improved by a nice summer house, I'm sure you would agree.
We've got the money: the work that's been done, although not exactly cheap, has still not quite used up the funds we had earmarked for the improvements, so I'm not accepting that as an excuse. Rod the Electrician and his mate the Outdoors Man are poised. Are you with me? All together, "We want the Woman Shed!"
Doreen lives in the empty bit in the middle of Wales, where since her retirement she has taken up writing. She says it's better than working any day.
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