Monday, 13 November 2017

A Girls' Night Out (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)


Now that Little G is three and a half (or as she puts it: nearly four), our relationship has moved to a new dimension. While Small potters around finding stuff and transferring it elsewhere ~ spoons, a glove, the cat tray shovel, we get on discussing the Big Things in life, like What is Friendship? (it's being nice and sharing your toys) & what Little G would do if she met someone who wasn't friendly (I'd tell them to be exactly like me, because I am a good friend).

As a reward for being exactly like herself, Little G and I recently decided we needed a Girls Night Out, because Small was going to the football with the rest of the family and L-Plate Grandad. Little G was most excited about the concept of a 'Night Out', and in the weeks running up to the Saturday when it was going to happen, she referred to it frequently.

Saturday finally arrived, and I rocked up at You Must Be Mad's, to find Little G waiting impatiently for me on the sofa. She was wearing her best little black sparkly dress (what else?) and her boots with sparkly stars on. We spent some time perusing and selecting appropriate accessories, finally coming down on the side of a silver sparkly bag and some sparkly clips. You may detect a theme here. I cannot comment.

Sparkling and excited, we walked together into town until we reached Wagamama's  ~ a place we used to go regularly when she was tiny. We selected exactly the same meal, as a homage to those far-off days, opting for spoon and fork rather than chopsticks. We know our limits. Once again, some adult diners regarded Little G's presence with antipathy, and once again, I remarked LOUDLY on the mess they were making with their chopsticks, as opposed to the neat way Little G was eating.

After dinner, happy and replete, we strolled along the high street, just two girls on the town, footloose and fancy free, pausing at intervals for Little G to re-apply her lipstick (a scented lip balm). As you do on a night out. When we'd seen and been seen sufficiently, we went for ice cream at a local coffee-shop, then home in time for bath, story and bed.

OK, maybe it wouldn't have score highly on your scale of nights out, but as the song says: 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun'. And we did.


Saturday, 11 November 2017

Armistice Day 2017


 'No shelter from the kniving wind
                                                       No solace from the driving snow. 
                                                       No warmth, no comfort or bright cheer 
                                                       In heav'n above or earth below'
                                                               from 'Trench Winter. November 1916' by Noel Clark 

If you read my books, you'll know that lines from this poem feature in Jigsaw Pieces , my YA ebook . Noel Clark is a character from the book and his short life as a soldier poet in the first World War makes up one of the story strands. In a few days, we will mark the anniversary of the end of  that so called 'War to End all Wars', and there must be very few UK people who don't have some link back to the 1914-18 conflict. My link comes via my late father-in-law, the wonderfully named Herbert Inkerman Hedges.

My father-in-law was the youngest of twelve brothers. The eleven older ones joined the East Riding of Yorkshire Regiment and marched away to fight the Hun. They were all killed at the Battle of the Somme. He recalls his parents telling him how the telegraph lad kept cycling up to their house day after day, until the news of the last son's death was delivered.

I'm always intrigued by the way wars throw up poets. It's not just World War One, though that cohort are probably the best known. Poetry was also being written during World War Two, on both sides, in the Iraq War and is still being produced in Afghanistan today. I think the proliferation of soldier poets during times of conflict is directly related to the situation they find themselves in.

Poetry demands an inner ordering, a precise selection of vocabulary and structure - it's the verbal equivalent of piecing together a complex jigsaw - the picture only emerges when all the pieces are correctly placed. The control needed to make a poem is in direct contrast to the chaos that soldiers live in daily. Poetry is a way of containing their world and making sense of the senseless. It is therefore both therapy, and a psychological outlet for feelings and emotions too horrific to be dealt with in 'normal' prose.

Those who have read Jigsaw Pieces know the story of Noel Clark an imaginary World War One poet who died tragically at the age of nineteen, is closely linked to another soldier from that time: Billy Donne. What you do not know is that Billy was an actual person. I came across him quite by accident in a small article in the Times in 1997. It was headlined 'A happy 100th for man with mysterious past'. I used his story almost to the letter: Billy Dunne (the correct spelling of his surname) couldn't speak, and drew pictures of battlefields, just like his fictional counterpart. He was placed in a mental hospital in 1923 for unknown reasons, and no family had ever claimed him. His story touched me so much that I felt I had to write about him. The link with Noel Clark is where fact and fiction elide.

During the upcoming commemorations for the anniversary of World War One, we shall no doubt re-read many times the 'big' soldier poets: Owen, Sassoon and Brooke. But actually I find just as much pity and pathos in the work of the women poets of that time, who did not share in the fighting at the Front, but shared in the suffering, and the changed lives.

It is their sense of loss, their attempt to learn to survive survival, that makes their verse so poignant. One of the best is Margaret Postgate Cole.
This is her poem:


Praematuri:

When men are old, and their friends die 
They are not sad,
Because their love is running slow, 
And cannot spring from the wound with so sharp a pain;
And they are happy with many memories,
And only a little while to be alone.
But we are young, and our friends are dead
Suddenly, and our quick love is torn in two;
So our memories are only hopes that came to nothing.
We are left alone like old men; we should be dead
- But there are years and years in which we shall still be young. 

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Just Plane Crazy (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)


If we wanted to, L-Plate Grandad and I could spend all day ferrying Small and Little G from one organised activity to another, such is the wide and varied choice available locally. Playgroup might morph into Baby Sensory Club, then on to Music Time, Baby Yoga, Rhythm Time, Mini Mindfulness and so on. However, as these all cost money, and we are on a pension and mean, we refuse to pay out for stuff when we can amuse us and them for free.

One of our favourite free haunts is the local playground, recently refurbished. Little G is an experienced playgrounder, and can be safely left to work her way round the various things on offer, with only the occasional encouraging remark. Small, however, needs constant supervision as he has no fear, less sense and is reluctant to do any serious risk analysis before launching himself off the end of things he has clambered up.

Once we are all playgrounded out, we often drive to another favourite location: the end of the runway at Luton Airport. There, ensconced behind a mesh fence, we can watch the planes arriving and taking off. Little G and Small bring their two toy planes, and wave them in the air enthusiastically, making plane noises. Little G is now quite expert with the vocab, and can talk about 'control towers' and 'wheels down'. She can identify a Whizz plane from an EasyJet one, and a few weeks ago, we managed to see the last few scheduled Monarch flights going out.

Watching the planes is not just popular with us. Whatever time of day we turn up, and whatever the weather, there is always a line of cars parked by the fence, with men (mainly) with binoculars, flasks and sandwiches sitting in folding chairs along the perimeter. Some even have step-ladders and perch on the top step, like umpires at Wimbledon. It is clear that when it comes to watching planes take off and land, we are all just small kids at heart. Though two of us actually are.


Saturday, 28 October 2017

EU too? Reflections from EU Citizens in the UK.


I have written several blog posts about the ongoing difficulties experienced by EU Citizens trying to live ordinary lives post-Brexit. You can read one of them here. 

The following are all snippets from an EU Forum to which I belong. This is what life has become like for these families, ALL of whom are here ''legally'' (we still belong to the EU.) I have interspersed the comments with some montages of what these 'hard working families' read every day in the popular press.

'I went to a medical appointment yesterday and was asked a wide range of questions about my family, my marital status, nationality including my husband's and children, the date I came to the UK and if I naturalised. Strangely enough I have the impression that I will have to give further justifications in accessing any services. This is worrying and I just would like to know if there is an appetite in this group to campaign with all non EU migrants to combat against this disgusting immigration check policy within the NHS that has come into effect in October 23rd, yes...only 3 days ago.' 

'Its not NHS staff that are often bad, but stupid govt forcing them to be immigration authority. NHS organised quite few protests against that too.'

''I have not experienced any issues or discrimination personally up until today. I wanted to buy a bottle of cider in Morrisons in Bristol and was refused. I was asked for ID to verify my age (which is fine, and in fact even a bit flattering at 36  ). When I presented my Estonian ID card, the staff member first said that she's not sure they can accept it. She then said that she'll go and check with her superior. I was happy with that, as I expected her to return and say that it's fine. Instead, she returned and said that "Unfortunately, they don't take these." She wasn't rude and apologised for the inconvenience but it was still really annoying. She asked if I had anything else with me, such as a driving license, and when she heard I don't, she said that she cannot sell the cider to me. I was too upset and embarrassed to want to go and talk to a manager. ''



'As someone who's half Asian, half European, speaks five languages, went to bilingual schools and has had friends from all across the globe, I just never got the concept of 'foreign'.
I guess what I am trying to say is that I view this whole situation as ... disappointing, more than anything. It's also made me less intent on wanting to make plans for a future here, and I have been painting a vision of my future as dependent on where I want to go and where I feel welcome, because if the past few months have taught me anything it's to appreciate the power of just packing my bags and leaving.
I know that's an extreme view, and the optimist/realist in me pretty much doubts that I would have to leave, but I think ... that somewhere, somehow the UK has just let me down 

And I think that's the saddest part about this whole current ordeal -- it's making people like me who used to admire the UK just want to leave, because the rest of the world just seems like a more welcoming place.'

' The choice of language is used to reinforce their (Government) narrative- such as before the referendum, using the terms EU citizens vs British ( therefore stripping UK citizens of their EU citizenship, then applying together EU with immigrants ( when EU citizens were not considered immigrants per se, but merely using their freedom of movement, now regularise. these words are chosen carefully, to create an effect.'

'What's with the “those who are unemployed” may be rejected from settled status? That’s all students/carers/out of work spouses Pandora box re-opened, no? Does that mean CSI will be dropped but not being in employment could get you rejected? On what basis? Age? Gender?'
'Remainiac tripe claiming to be "art" spotted in Bolton, which voted for Brexit.'
This was posted today (20.10.2017) on Twitter from a Conservative Councillor.

'I read a report on the BBC this evening that Theresa May will say that the cost of applying for settled status will be "as low as possible". My partner is Spanish and I see no reason why he should pay a penny for his new status.Theresa May should guarantee now that no EU citizen should have this burden, no matter how small, just as benefit claimants should never have had to pay those outrageous costs for calling the Universal Credit helpline.' 

'It is becoming more and more apparent that the uk and the home office in particular are meaning to create a hostile environment for all non British. I think it’s high time we drop the hierarchy of immigration and fight in solidarity for all our rights as human beings no matter where we come from.'

'People are leaving because they see the writing on the wall.

The UK is going to be poorer, and the immigration situation will not get better. Even if they grant us the same rights, you will still need settled status, and you can rest assured that the
y will check this everywhere (job, bank, GP etc..) you go. A lot of people came here under FOM which allowed them to live here with far less restrictions and beauracracy. With settled status they will now have to jump through hoops to work and live here. Why do that when you can go to the continent and live in another EU country without jumping through so many hoops.

Also (and this one I feel is important), the Brexit vote has shown a side to the UK that a lot of people have found very distasteful, and they do not feel comfortable living here anymore. The anti-immigration fervor is most definitely a turn off for a lot of people.'

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Christmas Capers (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)


Although Christmas is officially still two months away, it has already unofficially arrived at our local garden centre. The garden centre is on our list of  'free activities' because we recently signed up for a loyalty card, which means we get 2 free coffees and cakes every month.

The garden centre also has a pets section with rabbits, guineas and hamsters. Small loves pointing at the pets and shouting 'DOGGIE' at the top of his voice, and Little G is allowed to buy the cat (rarely seen since Small's arrival) some biscuits, which we assure her are gratefully received.

We hadn't been to the garden centre for a couple of weeks, but Little G and I needed some spring bulbs to plant, and we still had this month's free coffee & cake vouchers, so last week we decided to mosey along, only to discover that in our absence, the garden centre had morphed into full Christmas mode.

There were strings of flashing lights. There were glittering baubles. There was more tinsel than you could shake a stick at, and a very large animated snowman, that sent Small into such conniptions that we had to wheel him hastily away. There was also a table of battery operated rather naff 'antique' lanterns with Christmas snow scenes, that whirled fake snow when you turned them on.

While Small was being calmed down and debriefed by L-Plate Grandad, Little G and I drifted towards the table of lanterns. We stood in companionable silence, watching the snow whirling around the little plastic snowman and his friends. Little G's face was wide-eyed in radiant wonder.

Did we end up buying one? Of course we did. Even though I was pretty sure You must be mad, who is very artistic, unlike me, and always produces a wonderfully decorated tree every year, would lament my lack of tasteBut nearer December 24th, when we are on our own, Little G and I will turn it on, and sit together watching the little snowman in the snow, and it will be tasteless and fun and wonderful. Because that's what Christmas is like. Here, at any rate.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Hit Me With Your Techie Stick ... Hit Me!


It would be fair to say that we, the Two Grumpy Old Sods have embraced modern technology, albeit at arms length. We have computers. We have a twitter account (GOS1) and an iPhone (GOS2). It would also be fair to say that when things go pear-shaped, our technical ability to sort them is so low you couldn't limbo under it.

As those of you who have nothing better to do than follow this blog know, I have now got a new state of the art small purple laptop, as my beloved e-Mac died on me five months ago, taking 13K words of the sixth Victorian Detectives book with it. The new laptop is supposed to be just for writing, and is not connected to the internet, but recently, it has started behaving oddly.

Out of the blue, it 'locked' my manuscript, offering me an alternative version to merge. Then various apps mysteriously appeared. I hadn't downloaded them (no internet connection). GOS2 accused me of various underhand dealings. I denied them. We worked out finally that my laptop must be connecting to the office desktop. Through the floorboards. A kind of internet computer dating ... only with real computers.

Weird stuff continued to dog the new laptop. I kept getting requests to update stuff. Or install stuff. Finally, the whole thing threw a mega cyber-sulk, closed down and refused to let me write altogether. After a brief altercation on the lines of 'Well you must have done something to it.'/ 'No of course I didn't,' we took it back to CurrysPCWorld, where a very nice techie person showed me exactly what I needed to do to stop it playing with the downstairs desktop:

Press the key with the little plane on it. Who knew? Not us; reading manuals is for wimps.

The very nice techie-man came from Poland. I asked him. Which means that in 12 months time, which is when I can down-grade to a non-internet package, I guess he won't be there any more. Another thing to lay at the door of this ghastly Brexit.





Tuesday, 10 October 2017

'Babies that Lunch' (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)


It is often said that 'there is no such thing as a free lunch', though in the case of Little G and Small, this is not the case. Every week, two free lunches are set before them. One lunch is eaten, one is frequently not.

We have been informed by You must be mad that Small eats a wide (though currently vegetable-free) variety of foods at home; this is good to hear. Unfortunately, in the physical transference between his home and ours, something seems to have gone awry. Small regards all food placed on his tray as highly suspicious. Bits of egg sandwich ('He loves egg sandwiches') are handled cautiously, then deposited on the kitchen floor, which, by the end of lunchtime, resembles a war zone.

If L-Plate Grandad (in charge of Small's diet) actually manages to persuade him to try something, it is often spat out, or solemnly handed back. I gather that the current trendy idea is to place a wide variety of foods on the tray and let the baby 'choose' for him/herself, but we are pre-trend and were brought up in the era of eating what was put before you, so we are disinclined to go down this route.

The nursery suggests giving him his food, waiting 20 minutes, then removing him and trying again later, but we are not trained professionals and frankly, my dear, we don't have the patience. Small's eating habits are regarded with some satisfaction by Little G. 'I'm eating everything on my plate,' she observes smugly as the bits of food pile up around his highchair.

There are certain things that Small will always eat: yoghurt, fruit, and Weetabix ~ a current favourite, but we have been asked not to use this as a fallback solution, as the last time Small lunched and dined on Weetabix there were, not to put too fine a point on it, problems further down the line.

One day, when Small is older, and a rugby prop forward, I shall regale him with stories about the time he refused to eat his lunches. Oh, the fun we will have! Meanwhile, we struggle on, feeling inadequate and crossing our fingers that one day, Small will actually consume everything we give him and the cat won't stuff herself on his rejects.

At least one of them gets to enjoy a free lunch.






Saturday, 7 October 2017

Growing Old, Fairly Disgracefully!



Several months have drifted by since the other Grumpy Old Sod stopped full time employment, and now that we are home together every day, we are slipping into a retirement routine which is developing its own rhythms and pinch points. One of them is the Denial of Responsibility conversation, which runs on similar lines every time it is had, and could easily have been scripted by Samuel Beckett:

GOS1: Did you remember to bring the newspaper voucher/shopping list/bag?
GOS2: No, I thought you were bringing it.
GOS1: I thought you were.
GOS1: I brought it last time.
GOS2: So you haven't got it?
GOS1: You didn't remind me.
GOS2: I can't remind you of everything.
GOS1: You could have brought it.
GOS2: I was relying on you.
GOS1: Well I haven't got it. I thought you were bringing it.
GOS2: I thought you were   .....   (and so on.)


Then there is the I put it down there a minute ago and now it's gone observation. This can apply to a biscuit, reading glasses, a mobile, a pile of clean socks, or the sports section of the newspaper. Nobody knows, or will admit to knowing, where the item has vanished to, so in the absence of any firm and tangible evidence to the contrary, the cat usually gets blamed.

It is hard work not working. It is even harder work trying to justify it. Much time is spent looking busy, whether it be 'paperwork' (GOS2) or 'writing my novel' (GOS1). It is vital to appear to be preoccupied by something, or busy doing anything, which justifies not actually being engaged in official paid employment. Guilt? Don't tell us about it ~ we are working flat out on it here.

There are, however, plenty of up-sides: I couldn't look after Little G and Small on my own ~ I don't have eyes in the back of my head, and I'm not nearly fast enough to be in two places at the same time. And it is good to have someone to sound off to about the mindlessly stupid and endlessly frustrating complexities of everyday life. Even if, between us, we are responsible for most of them.







Sunday, 1 October 2017

Tiara-boom-de-ay (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)


Now that she has reached the ripe old age of three and a half,  Little G has become a huge fan of dressing up. Her favourite costume at present is a bright pink and green sparkly fairy dress with pink stick-on wings (think: Flower Fairies on acid) that I found in a charity shop. The moment she gets into the house, she is off to the playroom to change into it.

'Look, grandma, I'm a fairy princess. I'm so pretty,' she announces, twirling in front of the mirror while presenting me with a moral dilemma of epic proportions, because You Must Be Mad has dinned it into me that one must not encourage her to focus on her physical appearance alone. 'Umm ... but you're also a kind fairy princess who helps people, aren't you?' I parrot obediently.

Little G treats this intervention with suitable indifference. 'Of course,' she says, twirling a bit more. 'Look, my dress goes out when I turn round.' There then follows the discussion about whether the silver tiara is better than the pink tiara. It is hard work being three and a half: so many important decisions have to be considered.

Spending a day with a small child dressed as a cast member from Midsummer Night's Dream presents its own very weird moments. I find myself uttering stuff that no sane person would be caught saying, such as: 'Sorry, you'll have to take your wings off, I can't get the seat belt over them.'

Then there is the accessorising. Little G has a box full of what you could call cheap plastic tat, but to her represents riches untold. Much time is spent picking over her loot, selecting what to wear. Look, you might be a shrinking violet, but trailing round Sainsburys in a shocking pink fairy dress, pink wings, tiara AND a selection of Frozen necklaces and bracelets is the way to go. When you are three and a half, it's all about fading into the foreground.






Friday, 29 September 2017

Kim Jong May & her Tory Party Respond to a 'Democratic' Request.

We're living in a dictatorship, folks. 

Dear XX
The Government has responded to the petition you signed – “Hold a referendum on the final Brexit deal”.
Government responded:
On 23 June 2016 the British people voted to leave the European Union. The UK Government is clear that it is now its duty to implement the will of the people and so there will be no second referendum.
The decision to hold the referendum was supported by a clear majority in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. On 23 June 2016 the British people voted to leave the European Union. The referendum was the largest democratic mandate in UK political history. In the 2017 General Election more than 85% of people voted for parties committed to respecting that result.
There must be no attempts to remain inside the European Union, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door, and no second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union, and it is the duty of the Government to make sure we do just that. Rather than second guess the British people’s decision to leave the European Union, the challenge now is to make a success of it - not just for those who voted leave but for every citizen of the United Kingdom, bringing together everyone in a balanced approach which respects the decision to leave the political structure of the EU but builds a strong relationship between Britain and the EU as neighbours, allies and partners.
Parliament passed an Act of Parliament with a clear majority giving the Prime Minister the power to trigger Article 50, which she did on 29 March in a letter to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk. As a matter of firm policy, our notification will not be withdrawn - for the simple reason that people voted to leave, and the Government is determined to see through that instruction.
Both Houses of Parliament will have the opportunity to vote on the final agreement reached with the EU before it is concluded. This will be a meaningful vote which will give MPs the choice to either accept the final agreement or leave the EU with no agreement.
The people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe. We want a deep and special partnership with the EU. We aim to get the right deal abroad and the right deal for people here at home. We will deliver a country that is stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking than ever before.
Department for Exiting the European Union

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

'Two Roads Diverged in a Brexit Wood'

Tabloids 2016
Daily Mail 1930s















As most of you know, my parents, Hans and Suzanne Flatauer were German Jewish refugees - my mother came from Berlin, my father from Hanover. They met at an international Jewish conference. This was in the early 1930s, when many predicted, correctly, that Hitler's rise to power would mean persecution in some form. Although those who'd read Mein Kampf could deduce what form this was going to take;  a lot of people felt equally that the German population would see through Hitler and his thuggish rhetoric, and vote his party out.

As restrictions on the lives of Jewish citizens began, including their right to education (my mother had to leave Berlin University), and attacks on individual Jews went unpunished, they decided it was time to leave. My mother's family, Lotte and Richard Mannheim came with her and settled in Hendon, north London. My father's parents Raphael and Alma Flatauer, affluent, highly intellectual Orthodox Jews, but maybe not so worldly-wise, decided to stay. They subsequently perished in one of the camps - part of Hitler's deadly 'Final Solution'.

In their absence, my parents' German nationality was taken away, as happened to all who fled Nazi persecution. They never went back, and I was born in the UK, grew up here, suffering racial taunting from time to time ~ age 7, I remember asking my mother why a kid in my class had called me 'a dirty Jew' when I had a bath every night. I was though, to all intents and purposes, a British citizen. I had a British passport, then in time, an EU one. And so my 'story' might have run its course - until June last year, when this country voted to leave the EU.

Me as a student in the 1960s

My parents were stripped of their German citizenship. Soon, I will be stripped of my EU citizenship. As it currently stands, I and my descendants will no longer be able to start a business, work, live, or study freely abroad without restrictions. Once again, other people have removed at a stroke my 'identity' in the name of 'getting back control' and all the lies we have been spoon-fed by the right wing individuals who poured millions into the Brexit campaign.

It would be easy to shrug, and say that everything will be OK eventually. That was what so many German people said, and truly believed. But I don't think I can, because I don't believe it will be. When I read of people being stabbed because they are not 'British', it is time to speak out. When I see the AFD gaining 13% of the German population vote, it is time to speak out. When I see my EU friends having their bank accounts 'searched' for evidence that they are here in the UK illegally, or being discriminated against because the are from the EU, it is time to speak out. When the Home Office sends over 100 letters of deportation, wrongly, it is time to speak out. When our prime minster falsely claims, on my behalf, that 'WE' never felt entirely at home in the EU' (Florence speech) ~ it is time to speak out.

How do you 'speak out'? This is how I do it. I blog. I march. I write letters to the local press. 'But it won't happen here', I am told. 'Oh, we don't mean people like you', my EU friends are told. Same empty words. Same well-meaning but gullible sentiments.
London EU march (with yellow banner)
And I use Twitter, Facebook and every opportunity I can to alert people to the path this country is currently stepping down.

Am I being too alarmist? Well, last week, a caller rang the BBC Any Answers programme and suggested that once all the current EU workers had gone, it would be time to retrospectively deport all those who were born here of foreign parents. The conversation was closed down by the host. But subsequently, many people on Twitter thought the caller should have been allowed to finish what they wanted to say, and it was wrong of the BBC to cut them short. This is where we are today. Where we will be tomorrow, is anybody's guess. But I know where I don't want to be. And so, I hope, do you.




Saturday, 23 September 2017

Waiting for Grandma (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)


Little G is now three and a half, and ever since You Must Be Mad ended her maternity leave in April, has returned to my dodgy care, along with Small Brother. Having two children to look after goes way beyond my pay grade, so I am lucky that L-Plate Grandad (retired) is now on hand to shoulder some of the responsibility.

Little G is exceedingly good with her small brother, who has reached an unreliable and snatching stage in his development, but every now and then, her tolerance level dips below socially acceptable, and we go upstairs to the playroom for some 'us' time. The playroom used to be You Must Be Mad's room when she was growing up. It has dark blue walls and a massive Pulp Fiction poster.

It also contains the dolls house, a three-storey Victorian edifice that I built for You Must Be Mad when she was six, and which we spent many happy years papering, painting and making/buying furniture for. It is totally unsuitable for a three year old, but nobody has told Little G this, so she delights in taking all the furniture out, re-arranging it and telling herself stories about the dolls house family.

The playroom also contains some of You Must Be Mad's childhood books, which we enjoy dipping into. At the moment, we are reading My Naughty Little Sister, which I remember from my own childhood. It is very much of its time, with a mangle, and kind policemen on bicycles. A few weeks ago, we read the story where My Naughty Little Sister bites Father Christmas' hand. Little G was suitable shocked, and there then followed a big discussion about the role and purpose of Father Christmas, with me trying not to be didactic, in case I deviated from the script that I hadn't been given.

Ever since then, however, it has been Christmas Day in the dolls house. This follows the same routine: the family sit round the kitchen table, which is piled high with a turkey, a birthday cake, tiny jam tarts and two miniature bottles of red wine. After dining, the three babies of dubious provenance are put to bed in the nursery, while the rest of the family slump in the living room, until the presents under the tree are doled out.

At some point, the minute red plastic phone will 'ring', and Little G, acting as surrogate family member, will pick it up. The conversation is always the same: their grandma has called. She is coming round shortly, and has lots of presents. We inhabit a universe of complete chaos, whose moral tectonic plates are spinning out of control, so it is comforting to know that here, in Little G's small post-Narnia world, it is always Christmas. And that grandma is on her way.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Watch out: Serial Killer at Large!


Yesterday (Friday ~ adjust to whenever you are reading this), the other Grumpy Old Sod and I had our letters from Cambridge University confirming that they will take our bodies (post mortem) for students to cut up, thus saving You Must Be Mad around £16k jointly in funeral expenses, and helping youthful medics to appreciate that age is no barrier to being useful. Plus it's the nearest to Cambridge Uni that we'll ever get. All of which has no connection whatsoever with what follows.

As you probably all know, Diamonds & Dust, which was rejected out of hand by my former agent as ''not remotely publishable'' and subsequently went on not only to be published, but to be up for the CWA Historical Dagger, the Walter Scott Prize, the Folio Society Prize, and score 90+ reviews on Amazon, has now developed offspring.

It wasn't meant to. Seriously. I didn't envisage trotting out the two Victorian Detectives Stride and Cully again. But like lily pond paintings by Monet, and Haydn String Quartets, once started, it seemed logical to keep going.

Thus the sequel, Honour & Obey, which was published November 2014, and Death & Dominion,, which came out in October 2015. Rack & Ruin, the fourth outing for Stride & Cully, was published in Oct 2016. The latest book, Wonders & Wickedness came out a few weeks ago.

There are those writers who regard a series as a bit of a 'cop-out'; after all, you've got your characters already written for you. To them I would say: writing a series is MUCH harder than producing a one-off text. And I know what I'm talking about: this is my second series of books. (The Spy Girl teenage series for Usborne was the first)


The main problem is that unless you started with the idea of writing a series, and few authors do, they just tend to evolve, you are stuck with whatever you wrote in the first one. You cannot radically alter the appearance nor personality of the main character/s without readers going ''What the ...?'' After all, it was how they were in book one that will keep them reading books 2, 3, 4, 5 etc. You can and must develop the main characters, but in essence, they have to bear some resemblance to how they were in the beginning.

Then there is the problem of keeping the plot momentum going. I find book 2 is usually the easiest, as it seems to evolve naturally out of the first one. Book 3, however, is far more problematic. New areas have to be introduced to keep the reader interested. Some fundamental shifting of perspective must take place, or else book 3 becomes merely a watered down version of the previous two. Actually, book 3 is usually the pivotal one upon which the rest of the series rests. If you cannot pull it off successfully, it is best to admit defeat and pretend you only meant to write two in the first place.


By book 4, the pitfall is over-confidence. You have run the gauntlet of three books. You feel the surge of expertise as fingers hit keyboard. This, after the previous three, will be a doddle to write. You have your characters, you know how the story arc works. Sometimes this attitude pays off: I still think Dead Man Talking, the fourth Spy Girl book, is the best plotted. However, beware: book 4 can so easily wander off into alien territory, or become a repetition of book 3 with added lacklustre.

Having now reached the dizzy heights of book 5, I am not sure whether I shall carry on or not, because in my opinion, based on avidly reading crime series, some writers manage to sustain plot, characters and reader interest beyond book 5, but many more don't and the result is a series of  flat readalike stories with little variety at best, or downright daftness at worst. (Lee Child manages it brilliantly, according to GOS; Janet Evanovitch does not ~ bounty hunter Stephanie Plum's hamster has survived longer than any hamster should or ought)

The trouble with series is that publishers LOVE them. They are easy to market, and each book sells on the back of the previous ones. Thus the temptation to go on churning them out year after year, when by rights the whole thing should have been allowed to quietly slink off and hide in a dark corner after the fifth one.

I have been told though, that the 'real money' comes from a 5 book series, so I am now sitting back and waiting for it to arrive. Mind, I never thought I'd get as far as a third or fourth book. My former agent didn't see any mileage in the first ...

So what's your experience: Do you prefer reading a series? Or a one off novel? If you are a writer, have you ever tackled a series, or does the prospect fill you with horror? Do share your thoughts....

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Ready, Steady, Review!


If you  follow me on Twitter, you will be familiar with tweets like this:

‏@carolJhedges
Read it?
Loved it?
REVIEW it!

#Writers make the world go round


I tweet it quite regularly to encourage readers to think about putting their thoughts, (hopefully positive) onto a review site after finishing a book.

So what are reviews for? I think they fulfill various functions. Firstly, they help other readers decide whether a book is for them. A slew of interesting and varied reviews (by this I mean at least 2 cogent paragraphs of analysis, not just: 'Ooh, I sooo love this book'/'I didn't get further than page 5' help one to decide whether to download/buy. Or conversely, whether not to waste your time. We are all time-poor. Reviews are therefore an aid to connecting the reader to the right book.

As a writer, I find reviews of my own books useful as a gauge to measure whether or not I am hitting the reader satisfaction button. Are they enjoying the story? Do they get it? Can they follow the plot? If not, how can I improve the reading experience for them in the next book. Reviews are also a personal encouragement - the writer's lot is an isolated lot most of the time. It is good to receive a little praise for one's efforts, especially when the serendipitous happens: a reader finds a whole new layer of meaning that had never occurred to me. Reviews can be a writer's best learning tool, if you let them.

Reviews are also very important in boosting sales. That is why I welcome the way sites like Amazon and Goodreads allow ''ordinary'' people to post reviews, and I get annoyed when some writers are sniffy about ''non-professional'' people expressing their thoughts and ideas, because believe me, the chances of most of us small/self published authors getting our work reviewed in mainstream papers or magazines, which is what we'd all like, is about as likely as Christmas in July.

For me, a special and unexpected reviewing source has come from all those followers on Twitter who tweet a few lines saying how much they have enjoyed one of my books. Or, as someone did recently, treat me (and all my and their followers), to an excellently succinct chunk by chunk commentary on Diamonds & Dust as they read it on a long train journey. Interactive reviewing 2017 style. I never experienced this when I wrote teenage fiction and it has been a revelation.

So in the run-up to Christmas ... and beyond, may I encourage you to read widely and review  ~  it need only be a short paragraph or two. Long essays are not required. But it will make a HUGE difference to us writers.

Thank you.



Friday, 1 September 2017

The PINK SOFA meets #scifi writer Jonathon Fletcher


The Pink Sofa has been on Twitter since July 2012 and one of the first friends it made was writer, gardener, and all-round talented bloke Jonathon Fletcher. Jonathon has advised the sofa on many issues, from planting potatoes in the Hedges Towers allotment, to acquiring dodgy illegal space weaponry that enhances its status with lady sofas. The SOFA welcomes him back, minus armour and arms, to chat about his Space Navy Series, now appearing in print form for the first time. Getting into print hasn't been easy ... as he now reveals.

'It’s more than wonderful to be back on the pink sofa again. I see the cakes have improved somewhat since my last visit. Must be going to Waitrose now, Carol?

I write a military science-fiction / space-opera book series, called the “Space Navy Series”. It’s set in the near future. Humans have colonised other planets and there is a war going on. Typical military sci-fi stuff.

What I think sets my series apart, is that I spend a great deal of time developing the characters and I cross genres. There’s a great deal of horror in my work and a conspiracy plotline that would usually be seen in a thriller. Things are never what they seem. One reviewer described my books as “Star Trek meets Full Metal Jacket”. Think “Game of Thrones” mixed with a little “X-Files” and “Starship Troopers” and you’re getting there.


Carol has asked me to talk about publishing my books in print for the first time. I initially published everything on Kindle through KDP. It was a (relatively) easy way to self-publish and get my stories out there. For anyone who’s interested, I did a blog on formatting for Kindle on my Goodreads author page.

I started with four, novella-length books and then the fifth book became full-length. I started with shorter books to ease myself into self-publishing. I was originally going to publish the paperbacks through Createspace, but then KDP started doing print books through the same platform as Kindle, which made life even easier.

It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to go to print. For one thing, learning the formatting is harder than Kindle. In a Kindle book, there’s no such thing as pages. You delineate chapters, but each page of text simply runs into the next. The reader chooses the font size on their Kindle and that makes the pages longer or shorter. For print, each page is definite, set in stone, and you must make sure they all face the right way.

However, the main reason I took so long is that I’m a stickler for editing. My first book was good, but needed polishing. As I’ve developed as a writer, I’ve got better at it. I waited to commit to print until I was confident that I could present a professional looking book. So, the first thing I did before going to print was to go back and re-edit my books. I addressed some formatting issues, some feedback from reviewers, tightened up the dialogue and added a few extra scenes which I thought were necessary.

My first print book is a compilation of the first two Kindle novellas, “The Might of Fortitude” and “Morgenstern”. Because of that, I decided to have a brand-new cover, rather than a re-hash of the first two. By this time, I had built the trooper costume for promoting my books at ComicCon (I’m also a professional prop/model maker) and so I used the trooper on the cover.

To begin with, I was more worried about getting the format of the cover artwork correct than the inside material. For instance, the number of pages changes the spine width. But in the end, the cover was quite easy. I downloaded a blank, formatted Word document from KDP for an 8x5 inch book. So, I made the front cover 8x5 in photoshop and used Cover Creator to do the spine and back for me. Simples.

Getting the inside formatting right was much, much harder. I couldn’t figure out the headers and footers. I couldn’t get the page numbers to flow consecutively. Every time I cut and pasted chapters in, fonts and line spacing would change. My first attempt had all the pages facing the wrong way so the chapter headings were on the left-hand side.

With time and a great deal of patience, I learned some new things about Word and ironed out all the problems. I now have a formatted Word document that I can simply drop chapters into, for when I get around to publishing my second paperback. I did the same for my Kindle books. I recommend it as a method of working; rather than creating a new document each time you write a book and having to re-do all the formatting, save a pre-formatted document that you can use as a template.

There’s nothing more satisfying for an author than seeing your work as a physical, print book. I will never forget the first person to buy my book at Newcastle ComicCon. He is a wonderful guy named Martin and is ex-Royal Navy. As I’ve based my future military on the British Royal Navy, rather than the more common American Marines model, Martin was a perfect customer for me. My books are full of “Jackspeak”, the slang of British sailors. Martin, a “skimmer” rather than a “sun dodger”, loved the book and gave it a very good review. I’m very grateful for that, as most people don’t bother to post reviews and they are SO important for us self-published authors. There is a book called “Jackspeak” by Rick Jolly, for anyone who’s interested in naval slang. It’s available from Amazon and a percentage goes to a military charity.

The first Space Navy paperback is available from Amazon. I’m planning to release parts three and four (“Berserkergang” and “Onamuji”) as a paperback next year. Then each book from “Belatu-Cadros” onwards will be a paperback in its own right. I’m doing re-edits of them all now.

I’m up to book nine in the Kindle series and I’m hoping to publish “Josiah Trenchard - Prototype” by Christmas. The latest book sees my main protagonist facing one of his deadliest missions yet. Here’s the blurb…

“Josiah Trenchard is a no-nonsense, foul mouthed, alcohol fuelled action hero.
The clandestine “Society” have caused wars, killing thousands and placing Captain Trenchard in mortal jeopardy more times than he’s had shots of “Black Void” rum. Aska Saito, the Society’s prime agent, has divulged their darkest secrets to him, enabling Trenchard to warn the Society off. Trenchard thinks he’s got the Society off his back. He thinks that he can settle down to a quiet life of hunting down pirates in the asteroid belt. He’s never been so wrong…

When several prototype specimens escape inside an underwater Papaver Corporation storage facility, Trenchard and his crew are the obvious candidates to be sent on a daring rescue mission. The only clue as to what happened in the deepest, darkest ocean, is a distress message from a lone survivor; an old comrade from Trenchard’s days on Mars.
Meanwhile, Aska Saito is searching for clues to her past. With a bounty placed on her head she is forced to run, plagued by an enigmatic message and horrific dreams. To discover the truth, she will turn to an unlikely source for help.
Prototype; some things are best left buried.”

Captain Trenchard has developed over the years. He’s a simple man who just wants to do his job, but his life is constantly made more difficult by other people. The Society have manipulated events in the United Worlds because they think they’re in the right. Initially, they’re portrayed as the bad guys, but as the series develops, the lines of morality become blurred. No one is whom they first appear to be.

I love to tear down stereotypes. Readers might expect my books to be a “sausage fest”. This book has a dwarf trooper in power armour and my first openly gay character, both women. I think it’s important to write as many and diverse characters as possible. It’s a big universe out there. Not everyone is a white, male with a jutting chin and rippling muscles. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, creeds and colours. My strongest female protagonist is a Japanese woman called Aska Saito. She’s running for her life in the new book. Her story is becoming darker and more confusing as the books develop. She starts as a typical stereotype – a Japanese assassin, a cold killer who is adept with swords. By book nine, you realise that there is far more to her than meets the eye. Her story is as important as Trenchard’s. She’s vitally important to the plot and when her big reveal happens, I’m hoping the readers will be gob-smacked.

If you’re interested in reading the story of my no-nonsense, foul mouthed, alcohol fuelled action hero, then you can find my books here…''

viewauthor.at/SpaceNavy

@JonGardener #SpaceNavy

Honour, strength and unity!

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Are Self-Published Writers 'Inferior'?

Cover 'proof' of new book

Scrolling through Facebook the other day, as you do when you are supposed to be working, I came across a blog post written by an 'anonymous' independent bookshop owner, in which he listed all the reasons why neither he, nor any of his profession would contemplate stocking self-published books.

His argument was that far too many self-published writers produce amateur and inferior books, and then have the cool arrogance to think, my God, that he is going to place their shabbily presented and badly-written volumes on his hallowed shelves! Quel horreur! (He made an exception for non-fiction books, which, he opined, were produced to a higher standard).The tone was snarky, the points generic, so I took one for the team, and responded in the comments column.

Scarcely had I crossed the i's and dotted the t's on my comments, when a friend on Twitter informed me that her husband was unable to order any of my books in their local independent bookshop, despite them having an ISBN, because I am not listed by Neilsons, or offered by Bertrams, Gardiners or other suppliers. Nor can I be, as I use Createspace (the publishing arm of Amazon) to produce my books. More horreur!

The attitude whereby self-published books are viewed by suppliers and bookshops as inferior, needs challenging. Contrary to Mr Anonymous' assertions of amateurism, many of us employ professional editors and proofreaders to check our manuscripts. We also shell out for bespoke covers, working for weeks with designers, to produce the very best and most eye-catching ones that we can. You may well find the odd typo in our work, but hey, I have found them in many a mainstream-published book too, (certainly in my own books, when I was published by a 'big name').

Now, I could, as a 'publisher' (see spine above) try to kick down the door, and get the Victorian Detectives into my local Waterstones, or one of the independent bookshops in the area, but frankly, m'dear, I can no longer be bothered. Waterstones' latest policy means that all books like mine have to be submitted to their HQ for approval, and I refuse to be treated like some kid who is handing in homework to be marked.

Even if I got an A on said homework, there is still the 'discount' hurdle to overcome. Bookshops expect publishers to offer them a 45% discount. It covers premises, overheads, staff etc etc. Fair enough. Large publishers can do this, taking a hit on some writers, while making big profits on novels by celeb writers, or hyped unknowns whose readability often seems in reverse ratio to their publicity. Subtract the discount from what a writer is paid in royalties, and factor in the sale or return policy most shops operate, and the faff of the paperwork, you end up with so little for your time and effort that it seriously isn't worth it.

Therefore, until Mr Anonymous independent book shop owner changes his mindset, and others their methodology, I am going to stay exactly where I am, mistress of my own little book and ebook empire, and enjoy the company of hundreds of other self-published writers, whose books are as professional, as well-written, and just as worth reading as many that you will find piled high in your local bookshop. What's not to like?

So what is your opinion? Are 'bookshop' stocked writers 'better'? Have you struggled to get your books into local shops? Please share your views and experiences ....


























Saturday, 19 August 2017

The Great Victorian Cover~up!

The NEW novel
Many people have been asking me (well, a couple ...) whatever happened to the Victorian Detective novels? So here's the answer.

For the past six months, the books have been undergoing a thorough re-edit. This was initially because the new book, Wonders & Wickedness tells the backstory of Lilith Marks, a character we meet in the first novel Diamonds & Dust. WARNING: If you intend to write a series (which I didn't), you need to keep a record of each of your characters' stories, so that you don't suddenly find you have committed them to something in Book 1 that you wish you hadn't by Book 5.

The Victorian Detectives Book 1

Thus the re-edit. And because I wasn't in charge of editing the first three books, it was a good opportunity to visit them all again and check everything else as well. Self-publishing is a never-ending journey, and it has been an interesting experience to 'walk back' through the books ~ sometimes going: did I write this? and sometimes: oh Gawd, did I really write this? in equal measure.
The Victorian Detectives Book 2

Five years is quite a long time for a set of books to be out there, so I took the decision that, along with a re-edit, it was time for a re-launch, and this would involve new covers. I envisaged the final product to be a combination of Steampunk, Victorian London and Crime Fiction. I also wanted them to be unique, slightly quirky and unusual. Given that brief, I went looking for the right cover artist who could work with my ideas and bring them to life.
The Victorian Detectives Book 3
I found her. Enter Gina Dickerson, of RoseWolf Designs ~ check her out at @GinaDWriter . Gina 'got' what I wanted from the first email exchange, and over the succeeding months, we came up with what I think are a fabulous set of covers. They are bespoke, and personal: Rack & Ruin has one of my photographs of Russell Square as a background. Wonders & Wickedness uses an amazingly evocative photograph taken by a Twitter friend Estelle Clarke @Legalimportant 

The Victorian Detectives Book 4
So here they both are: Detective Inspector Leo Stride and Detective Sergeant Jack Cully, two of Scotland Yard's finest. I hope you will enjoy their latest outing ~ it takes them to some very dark and mysterious places indeed, and if you haven't made their acquaintance already, why not dip into their very first adventure? Click on any of the Book links to find them.



Saturday, 12 August 2017

The PINK SOFA meets writer Kelly Florentia



The PINK SOFA has long been a secret admirer of Kelly Florentia. It loves her name, her smiley disposition and the way she frequently posts pictures of what she is eating and drinking. So when the opportunity came to host her in the writer's attic, it jumped at the chance. So, legs polished (the sofa..) and upholstery plumped, it asked Kelly to talk about how she writes. And she did:

My Writing Style

''When I got my book deal, I immediately texted my husband and told him the good news. Naturally, he was over the moon for me. Texts flew between us with the final one, from him, saying he’d bought me a gift to celebrate. I waited anxiously for him to come home, wondering what it could be. I’d been eyeing a Michael Kors wristwatch in the shop window for quite some time. But no, that was too expensive. Maybe it’s a perfume, I thought, or a lovely bottle of something sparkling for us to celebrate with. When he finally walked through the door with a huge whiteboard under his arm, I must admit I was a little underwhelmed. Hmm…I thought, not quite romantic. But I was wrong to think this because it was a very romantic gesture. It proved that he listens to me and cares about my craft. Why? Because I’m a planner not a panster.

I envy authors who start with a blank page and go on to write brilliant novels without any sort of preparation because I can’t get excited about a story until I know the ending. I’ve always been like this, even with my short stories. Once I know what’s happening, created my cast and worked out the plot, then, and only then, will the words flow. Admittedly, the novel does often change as the story unfolds, but I generally stick to the original plan, editing as I go along.

I usually do about three drafts on each book. But while I used to scribble everything down in various notebooks, on post-its and scraps of paper, I now use my whiteboard; and everything is in one neat place. How amazing is that? I still use notepads and post-its but my main story is drafted on the whiteboard, chapter by chapter, scene by scene, which includes dates and times. It rests against the wall behind my desk.  So whenever I’m unsure about anything, instead of rummaging through drawers looking for sheets of paper etc., I simply spin round on my chair and voila, the information I need is right there in front of me. I used it religiously as I penned my second novel, No Way Back, which publishes on 21st September 2017 by Urbane Publications.  I then wiped it clean and used it again to draft the sequel. And I hope to get lots more use out of it in the future!''
Kelly's NEW BOOK (What a fab cover!)

Links:
No Way Back is available to pre-order from Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0745DM4GR/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_x_EeAEzbPZV64SH

Website: http://www.kellyflorentia.co.uk

Twitter: @kellyflorentia


Spotify Playlist: https://play.spotify.com/user/11135145039/playlist/0IbxzB3L6ZPdbrFiUY5fAI?play=true&utm_source=open.spotify.com&utm_medium=open

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kellyflorentia/?hl=en