Chancing My Arm

You roll the dice, you take your chance

I’m learning to take risks, or am I?

Being part of a team organising a crime writing festival means I need to approach and talk with some very successful authors. These are people that I would never have the courage to walk up to in real life.

I wouldn’t for two reasons. There is, of course, the “I’m not worthy” feeling, the imposter syndrome. There’s also the whole introvert nature of who I am.

But I don’t have the luxury to be shy when I have to invite these authors to the festival. So I’ve come up with a reasonably professional form of works to invite without being demanding.

Recently I have been asked to invite an individual who is a total best seller, not just the kind of best seller that a lot of writers claim, this is a at the top of all proper listings, earnings in the millions kind of best seller. My first thought was ‘that person’ll never agree’, but I had a responsibility to extend the invite. So I have done.

The thought that moved me to action was, what’s the worse that can happen?

Oddly and simply, the answer to that is the worse they could do say no.

So what happens if they say no?

Well, I say thank you, wish them luck in whatever they do. And that’s it.

I chance my arm. If I fail, I fail, but I’ll still have my arm.

Of course, there is the alternative, and it has already happened; the person might say yes, and then I’ll have pulled off a bit of a coup.

So yes, I’m learning to be less risk averse, risking nothing tangible.

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Grey Water

As large parts of the country are under a hosepipe ban, are household started thinking about saving water. Although we are not subject to a ban where we live, the more all of us can reduce water usage, the better.

On the radio heard some woman saying that she keeps her garden alive and green by using grey water. Since my garden is something I’ve put a lot of effort into the last few years, I thought this was a good idea.

So we’ve started looking at ways to save water. These are what we’ve come up with so far. Many of these have been picked up from years of working in the water industry and listening to other people’s suggestions.

Steam the veg. Been doing this for years because it saves waters, keeps more micronutrients in the food, and saves energy.

Save the cooking water. If we boil or steam anything, we drain it into a bowl not down the sink.

Keep a water butt fed by rain runoff. We have a 100L one from our small greenhouse, but today we’ve brought a new 210L one that we’re siting out the front behind a trellis of passion flowers. We’ve got to get a longer hose to feed the barrel from the downpipe, but that shouldn’t be too hard.

We use a bucket to collect the run off from the shower as we wait for it to warm up.

We keep a bowl and let water from hand washing collect in it.

We have fewer baths, but when we do, we drain most by bucket.

All that water then goes into storage butts, and is then used via a watering can to take care of the pots and lawns.

Simple things, but if it saves the garden, I’m happy. And if it helps save any more, great.

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Bath Time

Am now back after three days away in the campervan. Have to say that the campervan is a real boon to our life. Being able to take these short breaks in the middle of the week when my hubby has some time of work is just wonderful.

Though only a short break it was one of the most relaxing breaks we’ve had in a while. Very chilled, even though it was was of course, in a heatwave.

We took a quick break down in Bath, a city we haven’t been to in well over a decade. And this time we actually did a lot of the tourist things that we wouldn’t normally do and it was fab!

Knowing we had the time away, I pre-booked tickets to get into the Roman baths, somewhere that I have never actually visited before.  They are very well curated, though I wouldn’t want to jump in that water, though I believe it wouldn’t have been green in Roman times. I vaguely remember hearing that that colour is down to something we’re doing that the Romans didn’t, though I can’t remember what. We did of course have a drink of the waters, there’s a special fountain point at the end of the tour where you can. I was surprised how warm the water comes up from the ground, and no as bad tasting as some I’ve drunk from other spas.

With the cathedral being a step away from the baths, we or course went in, and lovely it is too. Some wonderful stained glasses, and it always amazes me how memorial masons manage to get such fine and lifelike detail from marble. We also wandered along the river and got a lovely view of the unusual v-shaped weir, where, of course we did a geocache.

We also visited the Jane Austen Centre, which was something of a surprise, and hugely interesting. I knew Jane had many siblings, though I didn’t know there were eight of them in total or that they were all encouraged to learn ‘finger speech’, what we would call sign language, as the second of the eight children was deaf. I hadn’t really thought about the idea that sign language had been around that long, and that’s something I want to learn more about.

We also got in a trip to No 1 Royal Crescent, where you can walk through the house and the lives of a great Georgian family on the way up. On the way down, you get to see the servants point and view. Have to say I wouldn’t have wanted to be going up and down those stairs day in, day out. But it was interesting to see how the kitchen was set out, in many ways it had a modern feel to it. Though there were obviously none of what we would call modern conveniences such as fridges, they did store things in the cold, and given that we were there on a hot day, it was a refreshing point of the visit. 

That of course took us into the Royal Crescent itself, which is beautiful, and reminded me of the episode of MacDonalds & Dobbs in which Martin Kemp, amongst other 80s stars, crash landed a balloon there, after Rob Brydon’s character had sabotaged it.  Which made later walking past the city police station interesting – a new nice modern building by the way.

In the evenings, I did a lot of reading, a bit of cross stitch, played scrabble (got my first ever 7 letter word), played cards, enjoyed the evenings and just generally relaxed a lot more than I usually do.

Yes, Bath is a lovely city and if you get the chance to go there, it’s well worth the time. All the times you get to see there.

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Good Health

I realised the other day that I’ve not blogged for a while discussing mental health. There are two reasons for this. The first is simply that I have been busy, as my last post says. The second thing is that, honestly, my mental health has been really good. I’ve had to work at it, and it’s taking time. But I’m in a good place.

It’s odd how when our mental health is good, we don’t notice it. But after the Harrogate festival I’ve seen a fair number of attendees say they have, unfortunately, contracted covid. These people have my sympathy, because my understanding is that covid’s not nice.

Oddly, no one in my household has contracted covid at any point since its first arrival in the country. We have gone through the usual testing processes, especially as my husband and daughter worked throughout the pandemic. I did too, but was working from home.

We tend to put this good health down to good luck.

I’m also aware that poor mental health can have a serious and negative effect on the immune system. I’m not suggesting that those who picked up covid are suffering poor mental health, some might be, some might not, I have no evidence either way. I’m saying that my physical health is currently good. I’m a woman of a certain age, so there are issues, but nothing major. Given what I have been through the last few years, I am glad to say that for the last few months, probably a year now, my mental health has been good. I’m very grateful for this.

I love doing what I do now.

I love writing. I love editing. I’m grateful for the opportunity to read books I might not otherwise see, and I hope that I help other authors. And even though it’s a lot of work, I love helping organise the Gŵyl CRIME CYMRU Festival.

This blog is really to say that we should all celebrate the small stuff and acknowledge the good. Cheering the good is much better than bemoaning the bad. It’s good to have good mental health, and I appreciate being in that fortunate position.

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Two Hectic Months!

Just a little bit of my white board.

Sometimes I wonder if I get anything done, then I have a couple of months like the last two and I wonder how I’ve kept up. June and July have been totally hectic!

In the last two months I have written 4 short stories, completed 3 editing commissions, been part of 4 writing events and several committee meetings, made 3 agent submissions, created a new blog, post on 3 different blogs, figured out a new ending for a book, and been as active as I could be on social media.

I wrote all the four short stories for submissions to an anthology, the shortest one is 6k, longest 10k. To be honest, two of these may not make it to anthologies, and go instead to collections of my own, maybe even reader magnets for joining my newsletter. Honestly, I don’t know but I have until the end of September to decide.

I love editing and helping authors with their work, and what I really love about this is that I get to read books I might not otherwise see. I’m also really blessed this last two months as all three books, while very different, were well written and enjoyable to read.

The writing events I’ve attended have taken a huge range of formats. During the PWA Crime Writing Week, I picked up some great tips. I chaired the CWA/Diamond Crime online event for National Crime Reading Month in which I interviewed Jaqueline Harret, Gwyneth Steddy, and Thorne Moore. I attended the Waterstones author evening with Philip Gwynne Jones for “The Angels of Venice”, which was a fun evening. And I was at Harrogate Crime Festival which led to the agents, see my last blog.

Committee Meetings have been for the Gŵyl Crime Cymru Festival which is shaping up nicely.

Agent Submissions are the three I secured at Harrogate, and I really hope that something comes of that.

I’ve started a new blog for steampunk, Shades of Aether, which I’ve already put nine blogs on, and schedule the next. Then there’s the Crime Blog, and of course this one.

The new ending is for the next Elaine Blake book. Because of the situation in Ukraine, I’ve been asked to move the action away from there, for obvious reasons. I selected the new location quickly. What’s taken a lot more brain power was how the characters and action will play out in that new location because it can’t be a simple case of changing the city name and leaving it as it. I’ve got the storyline sorted now, so it’s just a case of writing it now.

And of course, social media gets a mention because it’s something we all do. I admit I could be more active here, but there are only so many hours in a day. 

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Back from Harrogate

Many people will know that about Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival held in Harrogate, and I was there this last weekend gone.

I have to say it was just wonderful!

Originally I had booked to go up on the Thursday and come back on the Sunday, but that meant missing Creative Thursday as it’s a 5 to 7 hour drive (traffic dependant). I mentioned this and my darling hubby said, okay then, he had the Wednesday off anyway, so we could go Wednesday and I could attend Thursday. As it was 1 July at that point, I didn’t think that there would be any places available for Creative Thursday. Thus, without getting my hopes up, I went on the internet and I checked. There were! So I booked one ticket. Then began the fun and games to extend the hotel stay.

The point is, it all worked out in my favour, which was a bit of a surprise. Things don’t usually go that well for me.

So, I attended Creative Thursday, which was really interesting. A panel of established authors lead by Mari Hannah talked about how to approach writing as a profession and gave tips on how to pitch, very useful tips. Vaseem Khan talked about writing the outside your own cultural background. And Greg and Kate Mosse talked about plot structure. They were all great sessions. What also makes it good is the people that you meet and get chatting to during the day, other writers also there to learn, as well as the established writers, all of whom are happy to help.

What I didn’t know, was that the end of Creative Thursday is the Dragons’ Pen, when attendees can pitch their work to agents and publishers. You put your name in a hat; then names are drawn by no less an author than Mark Billingham, and then you have two minutes to pitch your novel to the Dragons. By sheer luck, he picked my name!

So I gave my pitch, trembling all the way through. I remembered what they had said in the morning, to breathe and talk at about half the speed you think you should. I remembered the recommendation to cite other authors/books that are related to your own book. And I did all that. I even did it within the time given. Mark suggested I could have waffled for another 35 seconds, but I responded I don’t waffle in my books, so I couldn’t in a pitch. Don’t know it that did me any good, but I try to keep it true.

Upshot of this is that three of the four asked to see my work! Woo hoo! I was on cloud nine! So with such a good foot in the door, that’s what I’ve now done. I know there are no guarantees, but I have a chance I would never have had had I not gone to Creative Thursday. I just hope now that they like the full book enough to take me on. Or that at least one of them does!

This really is a case of good luck, or alignment of stars or whatever cosmic power you want to believe in. I was lucky to get the extra day in Harrogate. I was lucky to get on Creative Thursday course. I was lucky Mark Billingham pulled my name. I was lucky I have a good book to pitch. I was lucky that three people were interested enough to want to see it. I was lucky.

I’ve also worked damn hard to get that book right – as you’ll see from the previous blog because that book is the one I pitched. I also worked hard on the day on that pitch, tweaking it right up to the last minute, so it said everything it needed to say. Because I will always remember the quote from Samuel Goldwyn “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Just to balance the sweet news, here’s a touch of sour. I was also told by one individual that they are the only one who reads my blog. So to the rest, if you’re not reading, I don’t know what you’re doing here. Still, I see the numbers, and I appreciate all who follow my ramblings. Thank you all for reading.

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Writing Ain’t Easy

Writing isn’t easy. Well, okay, writing is, but writing to a standard worth publishing is something else again.

I’m working on a book where I love the story, where I know the end game. But I’m struggling with it. I’ve had this book on the go for years, but I’m just not getting it right.

It started out as straight contemporary crime. But I was told blankly that it would never get accepted for publication as it talks about the porn industry. Apparently that won’t sell in America, which just goes to show how that is a land of contradiction.

After that I realised that I needed to do something, but wasn’t sure what. Then I got it. Madoc wasn’t a strong enough character. There was something missing. That was when I decided he had the gift, the sight, could hear the dead. Not a new idea, but not one that’s in a mainly contemporary setting.

So I rewrote the book. Even got a publishing offer for it. But I turned it out. The story wasn’t ready, it wasn’t right.

That leaves me with a story that I know is worthy at its core, but it’s just not there.

I decided Madoc needed more. He needed to be more. So I’ve gone full blown Pagan with him now and rewritten again. It still isn’t selling, but then it still isn’t right.

I was also told by an excellent writer, one who I respect a great deal, that I should give up writing contemporary crime. That was depressing. Though for full disclosure, what this writer meant was that I should concentrate on my steampunk work, which is still crime, but under a different guise. So with a sigh, and a dip into depression. I decided it was time to concentrate on my steampunk work, that Madoc’s time was done.

Wrong again!

What I realised is that I need to stop holding back. That was the problem. Rather than keeping the supernatural elements of Madoc’s ability quiet, I’m going to bring them to the fore. The solution to the crime will still have to be completely ‘real world’, but the getting there will be guided by unusual means. Hopefully, I can rewrite and make that work now.

So that it. A whole new rewrite. When I have the time.

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I Hate Yous

‘I hate you’ is one of those things that gets said in two ways, both full of meaning and emotion. The one where it’s the truth, which is hurtful and more often than not mutual. And the one where it’s the opposite of the truth, and it’s just a joke and both parties can laugh at it.

Someone I care a lot about told me they hate me a couple of days ago. And I’m not laughing. I am hugely upset still, to the point of it affecting my work.

To give some background, this is a longstanding friend, who I know has some issues that often present with a very negative self-image. And I worry about them because of that. The chat we were having friendly and a bit silly about writing and delivery methods, and all was fine. Then a comes a message that says how this friend feels underappreciated. I was ready to sympathise, there is nothing worse than that feeling. Then I read on about how my lack of respect was damaging their self-worth and making them unhealthy. While sitting stunned to read that, another message came in that simply said: “I hate you”.

I was gobsmacked. Didn’t know where any of that had come from. I was also deeply, deeply hurt.

From where I was sitting, we’d gone from a light-hearted discussion to one about serious mental health issues. This friend and I have had lots of silly conversations over the years, joking conversations, but this didn’t feel the same at all.

I tried to rationalise that it had been sent to the wrong person. They couldn’t mean that. So, I waited for some indication that this was a mistake or a joke. None came. After a while I replied with “Wow – okay”, because I was so shocked. I hoped that that would break the silence and they’d come back to me so I could understand what was going on.

I left it for a few hours thinking that the friend had to have been distracted, and they’d come back and say they were joking. But I heard nothing more, I thought oh my god, they mean it. They actually mean they hate me.

So, I responded that after thinking about it, that what had been said was unexpected and hurtful, and if they felt that way, then it would be best to call a halt to the association.

That friend has now come back saying they were joking. No ‘Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way it was meant as a joke.’ No, just ‘I was joking’. They claim it was all a continuation of the silliness before, and how could I possibly not see that? Only it didn’t flow, it was a change of topic, and it didn’t read like a joke.

They said that they are sorry I saw it as I did. Implying I’ve got it all wrong.

That they can’t believe that I would think it was a serious message. Indicating I’m the only one at fault.

They say to take it seriously I can’t know them as well as they thought. Again, blaming me while showing no indication of knowing me at all.

That I’m not as good a friend as they thought. Well that cuts both ways, pal.

They say that they can’t read my mind via text, demonstrating no understanding that I can’t read theirs either.

I really care about this person, and am shocked by the level to which they are prepared to try to put the misunderstanding entirely on me without taking a single iota of responsibility. The failure to demonstrate understanding that someone else might not see things exactly as they do is what I’m finding most painful. The dip into mansplaining didn’t help much. Friendships can’t be a one-way street, there has to be give and take. No two people ever see everything the exact same way. We all have to make allowances.

I want to remain friends with this person, but I want to see them take responsibility for their own words. To actually say they are sorry without implying that it’s entirely my fault while they stand blameless.

I don’t want grovelling, no promise not to do it again (that’s an impossible promise to keep anyway people often misread others), no overblown protestations of friendship. A simple, quiet sorry is all it would take, but I don’t expect I’ll get one.

Since writing the above the friend has now come back to tell me that it’s all down to my ‘failure of humour’, that I was hostile in trying to explain why I didn’t see it as funny, and that I don’t understand them. So, apparently, it’s all my fault, none of theirs and I mean nothing to that friend after all. Shame.

p.s. The friend mentioned doesn’t follow this blog. So, no this wasn’t written with their reading it in mind. This is me expressing my feelings and not expecting any response from anyone. That after all is why I started blogging, to scream into the void.

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Weird Crastinating

You know what procrastinating is right? You may even be doing it right now by reading this blog. I know I do lots of procrastinating, because it’s easier than doing the actual work, or at least it feels like it.

You may even have heard about procrastabaking (the art of baking instead of doing what you really should be doing)? I’ve done plenty of that over the years too.  Good for procrastinating, but bad for the waistline. 

But did you know there’s such as thing as precrastinating? I only heard of this today. Precrastination is the inclination to complete tasks quickly just for the sake of getting things done sooner rather than later.

Pro- or pre-crastination is problematic. There are cliches for both. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.  Marry in haste, repent at leisure.

But if you can pre- and pro-crastinate, it begs the question, can you just crastinate? Interestingly, yes, you can crastinate. To crastinate is actually to procrastinate. It is simply an obsolete form for the word procrastination.

So, does knowing this now overwhelm you? Underwhelm you? Whelm you?

Anyway, what I’m taking a long time to say, is words are weird.

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Write Back

I’ve had a really packed few weeks, and being able to work off my laptop is an absolute must. My life is on this laptop in one way or another. So when finally the last of the festivals* was done, I was looking forward to spending a fair amount of time alone with my laptop to catch up on some things.

Then my laptop died.

Well, it didn’t exactly die. The battery started to expand, which is as good as dying because that can lead to the battery exploding and fires and big trouble, and you’re not supposed to used them at all once you spot the problem.

I only brought the laptop in July last year – because the previous one (three years old) died when the battery expanded. So thankfully, I could get the battery changed under warranty, so I called the supplier and they agreed to sort out the repair at no charge. So I downloaded all my documents onto a hard drive and took it to the shop. The bad news was that it would be away for a whole week (turned out to be 8 days).

In the meantime, I had to resurrect an old Samsung laptop I have. It’s ten years old, brought when Windows 8 was first released. I haven’t even turned that laptop on in years, so it took two days of updates to get it to do anything, and it turns out that doing anything with images is beyond its capacity. Well, to be honest, that’s not entirely fair, it could do stuff, but so slowly it was painful, definitely beyond the endurance of my patience. Thankfully, though, it was good enough to let me do the last edits on my current WIP, so I am very grateful I hadn’t got rid of the machine. If I hadn’t been able to do that, I would have been totally stressed out by now, instead, I’m feeling good for having sent the manuscripts to my publisher.

Anyway, I now have my lovely ‘new’ laptop back and I can really get on with all I need to do.

So happy to be reunited with my best work tool.

* Gwyl CRIME CYMRU Festival, then Narberth Book Fair, then CrimeFest.

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