Thursday, 10 May 2018

A Bad Case of Mobile Madness


As many of you know, I have a tenuous relationship with technology. Actually, my level of competence is so low, you couldn't limbo under it. And so, at the back end of last year, the Other Grumpy Old Sod persuaded me to buy a Doro mobile, on the basis that it was advertised as ideal for the elderly and mentally incontinent, thus rendering it eminently suitable to my requirements.

The suggestion was made on the back of my previous three mobiles going wrong (the most technical I get upon these matters), plus the fact that every time I used his iPhone, a conversation ensued containing the phrase: 'Now what have you done?' And for a few months, it was good. Very good. And then last Bank Holiday Monday, I lost it at the garden centre.

In my defence, I was minding the 2 yr old and 4 yr old at the time while their mother was somewhere else buying plants, and before you roll your eyes, your options are extremely limited if you are standing in a pay-queue with a loaded tray and the grandchildren suddenly decided to re-enact The Great Escape. Unless you have taken the pre-precaution of tying them to you with strong cord. Which I had failed to do.

In the ensuing fracas, my mobile must've dropped out of my bag. It took me 24 hours to realise it was missing. A further day was spent scouring the house/daughter's house and car. I then used the landline to ring back places I'd visited, and lo! second call elicited the joyous news that the mobile had been handed in at the garden centre and it was in their safe. Safe.

You really want this to now end with 'and they all lived happily ever after', don't you? Sadly not. Between the loss of the phone and its subsequent return, something had happened to the relationship between it and the charger, which refused point blank to charge it. Thus, armed with charger and phone, I sallied forth to the EE phone shop once more, and explained to the 12 year old behind the counter that I had suffered another #phonefail.

After testing both items, it proved to be the charger that was at fault. Which didn't entirely surprise me, as it is plugged in by the gas hob and might, possibly, have got closer to a lit gas ring that it should've. The 12 year old then looked thoughtful, did some lip-pursing, and frowning, and told me that if I wanted to save £7, it would be actually cheaper to buy the rock bottom 'I wouldn't give a phone like that to my cat' mobile, as the charger that came with it was compatible with my phone.

So that is the reason why I am currently the possessor of two mobile phones, upping, at a stroke, my potential for #phonefail by 100%!  OK, in theory, I am in a better position, as I have a fallback phone. But don't hold your breath, is all I can advise.




Sunday, 8 April 2018

Of Mice and Moan


Every now and then Hedges Towers is invaded by mice. They come in from the cold, like in a John le Carre novel. Unlike in a John le Carre novel, they then find themselves face to face with a small tortoiseshell cat with a rodent fixation. They do not survive long. Unless I get out of bed at 3.35am in the morning and rescue them. Or as the cat thinks: join in the fun, but then selfishly take the small furry toy away.

I tracked their current invasion to under the kitchen sink. There is a square hole where the water pipes go out. After the last invasion I'd blocked it up, but fitting a new outside tap on the Summer meant it had been unblocked. I re-blocked and applied peppermint oil. Cat then spent two nights staring fixedly at the cupboard door, like a replica of that old HMV advert with a small dog and a wind-up gramophone - but this time with a cat and a cupboard.

Sadly, misfortunes like buses always arrive in pairs. I now discover that I must expend a shedload of money on new glasses.This is because our nice local optician told me on Friday that my reading glasses had basically 'had it' - I think she used some technical word, but the bottom line is, they can't bend them back into shape any more without the whole frame breaking apart. And the little nose thingies have split and cannot be replaced.

Most of the damage has been done over the years by me putting them down to do closeup reading and then lying on them. Or dropping them off various surfaces and then stepping on them while trying to find them again. The rest of the damage has been done by Little G and Small. Apparently grandchildren are a HUGE source of glasses damage. Who knew?

So a frustrating hour was spent trying on alternative glasses - frustrating because I basically want The Identical Frames and they no longer make them. And I am so flaming short sighted that I can't 'see' myself clearly in new frames without coming within licking distance of the mirror, which is undignified on so many fronts.

The frames I like: the ones where you only have actual bits at the sides, (I refuse to channel Irene Apfel) cost over £350 - I have an unerring knack of picking out the most expensive stuff. And the lenses - don't go there. Trouble is, no glasses, no writing life. Currently we are scrabbling around down the back of the sofa and tipping out the penny jar.

So, if anybody with a mouse problem wants to hire a small tortoiseshell cat - completely unreasonable rates, but mouse problem pretty well guaranteed to be solved, please apply. Elderly myopic writer needs new glasses to write blockbuster to pay for new glasses.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Snippets from the Far Side of Sanity


So that was Easter. Despite the usual plea to the other Grumpy Old Sod not to buy me an Easter egg, I got one. A large one. Resistance gave out on Sunday evening, when almost the whole lot was eaten. In one sitting. It was interesting, in a detached way, to then observe the effect of far too much sugar on a member of the zimmerati.

Prosecco affects me completely differently. One glass, and I am the life and soul of whatever gathering I am attending. Two glasses, and I am still the life and soul, but only I think so. Nobody will ever tell me what happens after three glasses.

Be that as it may, sugar in excess makes me verbally aggressive, and  I managed to get into some great scraps on Twitter on Sunday night. An ability to spell abusive words would have helped. But you can't have everything in this life.

Monday morning, the scales told me I had overdone it. Since the cancer thing, I've been trying not to put on weight, but it's hard, on account of getting breathless far more than I used to, and finding exercise difficult as a result. Nevertheless. This was depressing, and I was so upset that I had to finish off the remaining chocolate to compensate.

However ironic this state of affairs may appear, it is NOTHING in comparison to the Brexit Blue Passport Debacle. For those who live in their own bubble: our beloved government has decided that when (if) we leave the EU, we MUST have our own British Blue passports, like we used to have in the good old days of Empire (only they were black, I still have mine from 1965).

The work was put out to tender, and a bid accepted. From an EU company, based in the EU which we are in theory, leaving next year so that we can 'take back control'. Oh how wonderful! Several of the madder patriots immediately fell over themselves justifying this on the grounds that the government was getting the best deal for the British taxpayer.

Sadly, the British company who lost the bid, doesn't agree, and is now suing the government. On what grounds, I cannot imagine ~ patriotism? Sore losers? Who knows. Whatever way you cut it, you get irony in your slice. Sometimes, you just couldn't make it up, could you?


Monday, 26 March 2018

Nitty Gritty (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)



Little G and Small LOVE their nursery and frequently bring home stuff they've made (in Small's case, with help) or paintings they've done. Sometimes, they also bring home things that are slightly less welcome. Like nits.

We have had several bouts of nits ~ refuting the myth that it's only 'poor kids whose parents don't wash their hair' who have them. You must be mad attacks the little blighters with a 'nitty gritty' comb. I don't have such an article in the house, so they tend to get gone over with the cat's flea comb, which works just as well, though the cat isn't too chuffed about it.

Small, however, is proving harder to rid of nits. His hair, now the colour of golden syrup, is thick and curling over his ears. There is a reason for this: the one and only time You must be mad took him for a haircut ~ to one of those places where you pay a small fortune for your kids to sit in cute little cars with their own personal videos, he refused to co-operate. The resultant haircut looked as if the hairdresser had been snipping at a moving target. Which is pretty much what happened.

Things have now reached a tipping point, however. Not only is there the nits sitch, but whenever Small indulges his love of dressing up as as a Pink Fairy**, complete with wings and a wand, I can get his hair into two tiny ponytails. You must be mad freely acknowledges there is a problem, but really doesn't want to go through the same rigmarole as before.

Step forward our lovely local hairdresser, who is going to give it a go on the basis that her own son was a total nightmare at a similar age, but she managed to cut his hair. Little G and I are going to do some pre-haircut indoctrination, on the lines of combing Small's hair and pretending to snip it, while chanting 'Snip...snip...snip ' in jolly voices which we will get him to repeat. L-Plate Grandad (Small's favourite person) will sit him on his lap. I will provide a selection of toys, and we will apologise to the rest of the customers in advance.
What could possibly go wrong?


** The 'Trans Activists' would tell me that Small is self- selecting his own gender. To which I say: if there are TWO dress-up fairy dresses and your big sister is wearing the WHITE one, and you like to copy her, it only leaves you the PINK one, so don't be so silly.


Monday, 12 March 2018

Would Shakespeare be on Social Media?

Left jaw-dropped on Sunday by a Facebook post on a fellow writer's site. 'I had my pants on backwards all day, who knew?' she shared. Too much info? By the end of the day seventy-three people had commented. Apart from wanting to tell her that when she reaches my age, she will discover that such occurrences are so frequent they are hardly worth remarking upon, it did make me think ... and I am still thinking ... about the way we writers now have to 'put ourselves out there'.

With the development of  Facebook/Twitter etc, it is getting far harder to preserve one's privacy - given that readers, both actual or prospective, now want to share not only our work, but our lives. And yet, here is the paradox: writers, by their very nature, possess the sort of introvert, secretive personalities that make them go and lock themselves away in a room for hours at a time, so that they can invent stuff in their heads.

No longer is this enough, though. It is now almost obligatory upon any writer wanting to sell his/her work to feed the insatiable reading public's hunger for details of their lives, or their writing regime. I wonder whether we are beginning to reach the counter-productive stage, where maintaining a high-level media profile is actually hindering the 'real' writing process from taking place. Even writing this blog means that I am not editing the 6th Victorian Detective book novel, prior to handing it over to the professionals.  Not sure how to square this circle. You?

But in answer to my question about Shakespeare, yes, I am absolutely sure he would have loved it. I can just imagine the sort of stuff he'd have posted, too: "To Deptford, where I quaffed much ale. Upon return to my lodgings, discovered I had been wearing mine hose inside out. A merry jape."

Not sure we'd have had as many plays, though



Saturday, 10 March 2018

How to be a Good Editor


Christmas is heading for the far distant horizon, so I am now embarking upon the major process of editing the first draft of Fear & Phantoms, book six in the Victorian Detectives series, before sending it to my first reader/editor for a read-through.

Editing is, in its essence, the art of making things sound better. I have had various editors in my time and they all work in different ways. My OUP editor maintained a firm hands-off stance, more or less allowing the book to emerge from manuscript to finished product unscathed with just a few marginal queries en route. On the other hand, I have had editors who carefully scrutinise every paragraph, and red-pencil everything they want changing.

It is a fine balance for the writer to maintain. On the one hand an editor does (or should) know what makes good, readable prose and so it is in one's interest to take on board suggestions offered. However it is a moot point how far an editor allows their own 'reading' of the manuscript, and involvement in the creative process to predominate over the original voice of the author. I have been told, on one memorable occasion, that a character ''wouldn't have said that''. As if I knew nothing about them. Sometimes, you have to fight for your integrity. It is never an easy balance.

On this occasion though, I shall be doing my own edits, which means I shall be fighting for my integrity against myself, which will be interesting, and the internal Civil War will probably throw up all sorts of queries. Which I shall have to refer to myself to solve. Hopefully any conflict and animosity will abate enough so that the two of us can get on with it.

By the time the book reaches my final editor, it will be almost summer. I am not good in hot weather, but the heat in the Victorian era must have been almost insupportable for women. Forced to go about in tight whalebone corsets, stockings, and numerous undergarments, forbidden to show their arms and legs for fear of exciting male sensibilities, one can barely imagine the torture they must have undergone.

And then there was the smell to contend with. In the days before Bazalgette revolutionised the sewerage system, everything made its malodorous journey through London to the River Thames, into which raw sewage and the by-products from factories, and slaughterhouses were poured, so that in the heat of summer, the stink was unbearable.

There is a story that Queen Victoria, visiting the Houses of Parliament one day, noticed small pieces of screwed-up toilet paper floating on the Thames. Upon inquiring of an official what they were, she was told that they contained messages of goodwill from her subjects.
Now that's what I call good editing.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

6 Top Tips for Successful Book Talks

Speaking to Harpenden Writers

At some point in your literary career, you may well be asked to give a talk about your books. If you are a children's writer, it is expected that you will tour schools doing just that. Even if you are 'just' an Ebook author/blogger you could still find yourself clobbered for a local festival/writing panel. It can be fun; it can be nerve-wracking. Most of how it will be depends upon your pre-prep. In this series of blogs, I'm going to share my tips from 10 years of public speaking (Including gigs at the Edinburgh and Cheltenham Literary Festivals). Look upon any invitation to speak as a selling opportunity. You may shift as many as 80 books in one session. You are unlikely to do that via Amazon/bookshops. And you could get spin-off invites.

Tips on Pre-Preparation

1. Check how long you are 'on'. It is usually an hour. Break that down into: 25 mins speaking, 15 mins questions, 20 mins book signing and informal chat.

2. Check whether you are going to be paid. The rule of thumb is if people pay to come in, you should receive at least 1/3rd of the 'door'.

Cheltenham Literary Festival
3. Make sure you let the venue know exactly what you will need on the day: table for your stuff,  another table for your books, a chair. I keep it very simple. Try not to bring loads of technical equipment. People really react better to just you and your voice.

4. Check who is responsible for the publicity. If it is a Festival, it is up to them to publicize you. Make sure you supply organisers with your bio, title of session, mention of signed books being available to purchase (you want to sell, right?) and an up to date picture. Please. I've been to talks where the writer used a MUCH younger pic for their publicity. C'mon people!

5. Offer to contact local press with an interesting press release. This is often a winner if the organisers are too busy or have far more famous writers than you to focus on.

6. Stock up with business cards and copies of your books. Make sure you have at least 2 pens that work and you can remember your name (if using a nom-de-plume.)

Book talks are really enjoyable occasions, and once you've done a few, you will really start to feel the 'buzz'. I assure you!
My 'Victorian' table

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Top Tips on Giving Terrific Book Talks


Once it comes to public notice that you have published a book, or books, you may well find that you are invited to speak to a group about it. Or you may apply to one of the numerous literary festivals to be a speaker. Either way, it is important to plan and prepare carefully in advance, if for no other reason than it stops you panicking as the day draws closer. I have participated in the Edinburgh, Cheltenham and St Albans Literary Festivals as both visiting author and audience, and over the years I have sat through some pretty dire author talks ( I hope I haven't given any!)., so let's look at some of the methods I use to talk about my books.

1. Your session should contain 3 elements

* You and your books ~ how you write, why you write, what you write. With readings from your books.
* Audience questions.
* Informal book signing and chat.


I suggest for an hour's session the ratio should split into: 25 mins talk, 15 mins questions, 20 mins chat and signings. Obviously the last two can overlap.

2. Set the Scene - including yourself

There is nothing more boring than a pile of books on a bare table. Or a bare table. People like to look at interesting stuff while you are speaking. THINK about your genre. I bring a Victorian top hat and hatbox, part of a Victorian tea set, I lay the table with a lace tablecloth, I also have opera gloves, a seed pearl bag and some of my original Victorian books, which I stand up so people can see the covers.
I wear a steampunk outfit. I put my books to sell on a separate table away from the talk area.

Start collecting interesting stuff for a table display.

3. Practice makes perfect

If you have never spoken in public before, or feel nervous, WRITE your talk out in full first. Then SAY it ~ speak more slowly than normal and time yourself. Keep practicing ~ how do you think actors learn their lines? Some people perform in front of a mirror, or film themselves so they can eliminate any unnecessary gestures. Once you know your talk pretty well, reduce it to one sheet of paper with key words.

4. Sit or stand?

Stand. Always. You command the room, and can check the back row hasn't dozed off. Also you can walk about and pick up some of the interesting objects as you talk about your books.

5. Q & A

Have some pre-prepared questions to stimulate a debate, in case nobody asks anything. Things like: what do they think about self-publishing ~ is it just an excuse for poor writing? Do they prefer ebooks to print and why? What was the last book they read that they really enjoyed? Do they think some writers get over-hyped?

Be prepared to divulge all sorts of stuff. Some audiences will ask how much you earn, have you ever got a bad review, etc etc. Laugh it up and don't get insulted. I frequently bring some rejection letters along and read them out to much merriment.

Next week, we'll finesse your technique, look at a few more tips and pick up on any comments left by you that need attention.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Things I learned during Radiotherapy



1. Radiation therapy uses a special kind of high-energy beam to damage cancer cells.These high-energy beams, which are invisible to the human eye, damage a cell’s DNA, the material that cells use to divide. Cancer cells are more easily destroyed by radiation, while healthy, normal cells are better able to repair themselves and survive the treatment. (That's as techie as I'm going to get.)

2. It's not the most dignified of procedures  ... you have to lie with your arms over your head, nuddy from the waist up, and they mark you with pen before the machine zaps you. Yep.

3. Some of the radiographers have Very Cold Hands.

4. The machines break down because they are in constant use and the NHS can't afford to replace them as often as they should.

5. You get extremely tired (part of the tiredness is travelling there and back every day).

6. After three days, everything tastes of lemon floor polish.

7. When you are told to drink as much as possible, they don't mean prosecco.

8. It is amazing what you can endure, both physically and mentally (though see 7 above, which would have helped considerably on this).

9. It seems interminable when you start, but it DOES come to an end.

10. There are lots of very wonderful people on social media: I got sent chocolates, wine, books, pencils, cards, good wishes, and some lovely hand-warmers.

I finish being cooked on Tuesday, and I shall be taking in a big cake for all the lovely hard-working staff. The NHS has been there for me in spades, as it has been for thousands of other women with cancer and, pace this awful government trying to sell it off covertly to US healthcare providers, I hope it will continue to be there for all of us, when we need it, for ever.
I am truly grateful. 

Sunday, 21 January 2018

3 Reasons to Self-Publish


With publication of the fifth Victorian Detectives novel, Wonders & Wickedness, and a sixth on the way I have now firmly moved into the entirely self-published category. And I been asked once again by several people why I decided not to go with a commercial publisher.

Here are my reasons:

1. Control: As a self-published author, I  have a lot of autonomy. I can do whatever I like, publicity-wise, and if you follow me on Twitter (@carolJhedges) you will know that I do. I had very little autonomy with Usborne and OUP and I gather that some big publishing houses like to keep a close eye on their writers so they don't run amok on social media, which could rebound back on them. Also I gather that many houses prefer writers to promote other writers on their list (possibly why I rarely get promoted by Choc Lit writers, lovely though they are).

2. Choice: I  chose the wonderful Gina Dickerson ( @GinaDWriter ) of RoseWolf  Design to come up with my new covers. They are certainly quirky and different ... just like the stories .. and, dare I say it, like the author of the stories herself! When I was mainstream published, I had to accept whatever their in-house cover people produced whether I bought into the concept or not.

Also, I can choose and change the key words that help readers locate my books, and I can fiddle around with Amazon's book categories, if I want to. As I am an inveterate fiddler, I do.

3. Cash:  As a commercially published writer of adult fiction I was getting 40% of all ebook sales, far less on printed books. As a published children's writer that dropped to 12% of all book sales. And my then agent creamed off 10% on top of that. As Little G Books (my publishing imprint), I can command 70% of sales. The difference in my monthly figures has been remarkable.

Ok, I know it is all too easy nowadays to write a book, cobble together a cover and upload the finished product to Amazon .Advances in technology have opened up enormous opportunities for self-publishing that were never there when I started writing books, and that is a good thing.

I also acknowledge that inevitably, there is a lot of dross out there and it lets the side down. Poorly written and produced books with typos, badly designed covers, sold at rock bottom prices or given away for free, which is not the way I want to go.

Despite the many ''Hey, I produced a book for virtually nothing'' blogs, the writers of the best self-published books have usually used beta readers, then paid out for professional editing, proofreading and cover designing. It is hard work at every stage, and having done it five times now, I can attest to the pain.

But in a world where celebs are sneaking all the good publishing deals, and agents are less and less able to place books, I still think that going solo, if you can, is the best and most lucrative way of presenting your work to the reading public. And there is HUGE satisfaction from holding a book in your hand, or seeing it in a shop and knowing that you produced yourself.

So what's your publishing experience? And as a reader, do you ''prefer'' a book that has a 'proper publisher' behind it? Do share your thoughts ....