Writers block … #iamwriting

As a general rule I think writers block isn’t a bad thing. It does dam up a steady trickle of tripe and when the tripe is from others, well, hallelujah, there’s absolutely no downside.  When I’m the one blocked, the world isn’t missing much. Those readers chewing their nails for the next EJ Lamprey, well, my last two novels sold a bit but enthusiasm was unexpressed. I’m as grateful because reviews would have been, at the least, puzzled.

(I wrapped up the ten book Lawns series at long and complicated length in 19 20, and Do-Over . . . well, Do-Over was written in one spectacular joyous evening when the dam, for once, broke. It then took TEN MONTHS to tease into a book and sank like a stone on publication which is a shame because it hung on to that lunatic rollercoaster feeling and I like it very much)

Do-Over was the exception that proved the rule in a long block and I do blame my new life. Three years ago on a week’s holiday in Spain, practically to the day, (tomorrow is the day) I saw this uniquely odd house. BAM.  It had stood empty for a couple of years, was so run down  the few viewers before me had stopped dead in the doorway – the sort of house agents start with, you know the pitch, the next one is a little above your budget but remember you do get what you pay for. 

Not me. I saw four more houses but beetled back to see this one again, walking around dazed with delight. I patched plaster-crumbling walls without even seeing them, completely overlooked sagging ceilings, furnished one particular room with my desk and bookshelves (a STUDY of my OWN for the first time EVER) and peopled it with ink-stained scribbling guests having a wonderful time. I flew back to Scotland still dazed and thanking Providence that I had just been made redundant and was free to sell up and dash out to start this new and dazzling life in my new and wonderful guesthouse.

Six months later I’d given up:  nothing had gone smoothly, my house simply wouldn’t sell, I was living on capital when every penny of it would have been needed in Spain, the dream wasn’t going to happen. Time to give up, take my house in Scotland off the market, look for another job where I was, behave like a normal not-far-off-retirement rational human being.

As a sign of acceptance, a last nod to the dream and what might have been, I wrote a story about what I was calling the Elefante Blanco, a book for children with a 9 year old protagonist.  I knew my fading memories of the house weren’t entirely accurate, so I wrote it as it should be. Why not? I’d never live there. I peopled it with the writer guests I wanted, and gave it an owner who could have lived such a life since it wouldn’t, sniff, be me. There were a few all-nationalities neighbours and very little about the Spanish town and the lifestyle because I knew very little about the Spanish town and the lifestyle. The Kidnap Caper got as far as a few beta readers  (finding 9 year old readers isn’t as easy as you’d think, by the way) and then suddenly everything started happening and my house was sold and it was all go go GO and the Elefante Blanco story belonged to an alternative world.

It was to be the last story in a long long time to flow effortlessly. For years writing had come as naturally as breathing, something that fizzed and jiggled and bubbled endlessly, and I told myself it was because the refurbishment was so very much bigger than anticipated (it always is) and my new teaching job was draining my creativity and I was soaking up impressions and life was so very different.

I’m one of those writers who has to write, if not from life, from the life I know, and I knew very little. Not that I ever knew everything, all those whodunits, I’ve never really seen a murdered body, certainly never tripped over a fresh one. I’d more than once phoned Police Scotland direct on some procedural stuff and they’d been endlessly patient and helpful.  My Spanish was and is exceedingly pidgin. Phoning any branch of the policia here was never going to be an option. Writers block may be a boon to the writing world generally but it is a personal anguish, a mental constipation which becomes very painful. A year ticked by, and another, and 2020 dawned and I’d started and discarded at least nine book ideas, every one of them stilted and laboured and going nowhere.

When a story did finally start scrabbling for a foothold it was an Elefante Blanco one, picking up all the adult characters from the Kidnap Caper. Harriet Gant, who owns and runs the Elefante Blanco, which is not quite this house, has a life which is not my life, friends who do not exist in real life but are taken from life, and a murder or two to solve  in a country where she is still finding her feet.  Total fiction drawing on actual fact, familiar stuff, and writing is once again and at last, FUN. Whoop whoop!

Brace yourself, dear reader, because if this one gets past beta readers it may eventually be published, but right now I’m happy for me and oh wow it feels GREAT to have that dratted block gone.

The 5 minute nosejob – or – Why I chose paraffin wax

There was a point in the sixties where criminals in particular took joyfully to the appearance-changing properties of paraffin wax (the hard form of Vaseline) – injecting it under the skin at specific points could change the shape of your face. The effects, depending on how much you used, lasted weeks or months. No big surprise that there was a belated after-effect but then nearly everything injected into the human body carries a price. Paraffin wax was replaced with silicone. Whoops. More after-effects.

Right now the popular non-surgical rhinoplasty – changing the shape of your nose by injection, for an effect lasting several months – is done, according to the ever-useful source Wikipedia, using options like calcium hydroxyapatite, hyaluronic acid, liquid silicone, polyacrylamide gel, or packing the target area with microscopic plastic beads in bovine collagen – polymethylmethacrylate. Well those certainly sound healthier. However, they are relatively modern and the aftereffects of paraffin wax and silicone gel had sometimes taken 15 years and more to appear. Who knows.

The popular target areas are nose, chin and breasts – even a small correction can make an astonishing difference in appearance but oh my anyone who ever researched cosmetic surgery knows the prices are way, way out of line with any other surgery. Men and women alike will beg borrow or steal to look better. Anyone offering a quicker cheaper option to do just that has our undivided attention. (BTW, some surgeons will inject saline water as a preview:  the effects only last a few minutes but you get to see what difference the stuff with the unpronounceable name would make.)

So – what actually happens when you take the quick option? What happened to those who did? I had to do the research because I wanted to change a character’s appearance in a hurry in my Do-Over book. I eventually went with the formerly popular, no-real-skill-required, paraffin wax injection of the past. The effects would last for the few months required by the story, the character was in immediate deadly peril if he didn’t change his appearance, and the long-term risk was relatively small. The human body is never happy with foreign substances suddenly introduced and will protect itself by containing them as far as possible in the injection site. Over time, a granuloma forms, specifically called a paraffinoma when triggered by paraffin injection (so a siliconoma when triggered by silicone). The hard mass of the granuloma has to be removed surgically. A tragedy when we are talking cosmetic corrections now worse than the defect they corrected: but I stand by my choice for my story.

In terms of perfect proportions my nose is short for my face. Packing and extending the soft tip could balance my entire appearance. Would I go for non-surgical rhinoplasty? After looking this lot up? Hell no. Anyway I had dermal fillers several years ago for my daughter’s wedding and the memory of those gazillion tiny stinging injections still lingers. I’ll work on my lovely personality instead. Wouldn’t it be interesting if there were personality injections available . . .

Ever researching on your behalf

Elegsabiff

Getting a whinge off my chest. Do you have a friend or relative who writes?

Nope, not bestsellers. Neither did I run the last company I worked for. Oh, you didn’t expect me to become MD of an international company – yet you do expect me to have a number one bestseller? You’re disappointed in me? Back OFF.

Family and friends are uncomfortable and embarrassed for our sake when they realize our books aren’t, and will never be, in the top 1%. Reality check. We KNOW that.

When I started work as an office junior my modest future plans included becoming competent, maybe a few promotions and Bob’s yer uncle, hasn’t she done well, she’s a manager now. Look around your family – of how many relatives can you say proudly, he/she is a billionaire running an international corporation? Logistically we can’t all be tycoons of commerce and we all know that.

And yet, somehow, with writing, that changes. Tell a relative or friend you’re writing a book, or your tenth book, or your twentieth, and they are very nearly resentful. What name do you write under? Have I heard of you? Why haven’t I heard of you? What sort of books do you write? Why do you bother if you’re not good enough at it to sell a million copies a day? Or that patronising give me a copy and I’ll see if I can find the time to read it. Gee, pass. You’ll either never read it, or you’ll say in surprise that it wasn’t that bad, or you’ll never, ever, mention the subject again. When you do, try to remember you just met your friend or relative’s (brain) child and you ignored it.  Got any kids yourself? That ever happened? Bet it felt great.

There are over 32 million books available in a market place like Amazon. Some are – well, there’s a review ascribed to Dorothy Parker. “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”  If you think that about your connection’s book, eek, dilemma. But if you are just disappointed that the book you’ve read isn’t the best you ever read – it would have been miraculous if it was. Your other relatives and friends probably aren’t the acknowledged leaders of their professions. Hell, they’re doing well if they’re middle management and turning in an acceptable performance. Will you attack them? What do you do? Are you the best in your company? Why bother doing it if you aren’t? Give me a freebie. And when you meet their children, be sure to check they are brilliant, accomplished and famous before you deign to acknowledge them.

Huh.

Chest whinge-free, feels great. Upward and onward to 2020.

 

 

 

And now for something completely different – restarting with a clean slate. #Do-Over http://mybook.to/Do-Over

There are some memories and experiences we could have done without, we’ve all been there. Like it or lump it, though, they are part of our structure, wobbly uneven bricks which are wedged into the whole. So be it – que sera, sera

For most of us, the memories we’d shed are of the friends who let us down, the relationships we really should never have had, stupid things we did arrggghhhh why?! Regrets, shame, guilt and the cringe-worthy ones which pop up at 3 in the morning. Move on, fast.

Moving on isn’t always possible. Some experiences destroy any chance of normal life, twist and distort personality and the future forever. Psychiatry, psycho-therapy, all the counselling in the world can’t reach through the scar damage or take it away, at best there is only the dismal hope of living with the damage. Childhood abuse, wartime atrocities, things seen which can never be unseen, mistakes made which can never be undone. They spread so insistently throughout your psyche that they will dictate the future forever and cannot be shut away . . .

Unless they could be. Do-Over is a story of three people with unbearable lives who are outside normal society, shut away where they can no longer hurt others or themselves. Their damaging memories are cut away but not out of kindness. They are destined to be used as disposable pawns in violent situations, terminated if ever they revert, guinea pigs for a new procedure which could offer new life to many in torture.

It’s a quick thriller, not too heavyweight or gory, burgeoning hope and growing confidence, a million miles from anything I’ve done before.

Love you to read it, so it’s on the lowest price Amazon can offer for a couple of days.

Do-over cover

Promotion challenge – a book which makes you sound half-witted. Any suggestions? http://mybook.to/PidginSpanish #easySpanish

I’ve never mastered marketing anyway. Now I have to dazzle you into buying my book on speaking Spanish. Am I fluent? uh, no. Will the book make the reader fluent? uh, no.

I had a phrase book when I moved to Spain. I’d still have it except that it fell apart in my handbag. The pronunciation notes in it, well, it was deliberately making me sound like a tourist. And some of the strange things it thought I needed to know … so instead I started looking things up and asking and making notes and – I am a writer, after all – putting them in some kind of order and a year or two down the line they have turned into Pidgin Spanish. The Pidgins, as it happens, are my fictional family in the book but the point is, I hope, made. You’ll not step out at the end saying in flawless Spanish ‘my dear chap, I wonder if you could help me with a small problem I have, my computer’s on the blink and I need something reliable and not too expensive‘ –

You will be able to say ‘hello, help please, computer, good price.’ I have met a surprising number of English-speakers who live here (some for years)  who gave up before reaching even that dazzling level of communication. There was no way, I vowed, that I would spend my life living on the thinnest fringes of this extraordinary country but I was too busy teaching English and writing and rebuilding, then running, my odd guesthouse to put in the necessary hours and hours and hours. To learn Spanish properly is hard work, and nobody wants to teach you any way other than properly, and that, here, when you take local lessons, means starting with verbs. Let me tell you about the verb abrir, ‘to open’.  Some verbs are pretty straightforward. Some – well, verbs like abrir are why people give up on Spanish lessons. It is not only irregular, it has different forms for subjunctive, past simple, past imperfect, future, future potential, imperfect of the subjective, imperative, gerund, and past participle – even the negative form changes – for example, the Imperative ‘you’ version is abrierais, the negative of that is no abráis.

There was a definite need for a book which teaches you how to ask someone to open the wine (abre el vino). Or that a shop with the sign abierta on the door is open. I spent a year looking for it, then I gave up and wrote it. So even if nobody else needs easy basic Spanish spoken with the hectic fluency of a 5 year old child, I’ve got the book I wanted.

The paperback’s whizzing through the process now. If I were you I’d wait for that because the ebook is included as a freebie optional extra and the paperback is probably more useful.

If that hasn’t got you fired up and fumbling for your wallet, or at least clicking on the cover below, well, I’ve shot my marketing bolt for now. It might be one of those books people need to find on their own.

Amazon cover for Pidgin Spanish

 

 

 

 

Splish-splash – oh, and 19 20 #livinginSpain

The rain in Spain falls mainly – so far as I can gather – at the top end of the town. It then roars down towards the older part of the town as a raging torrent, foams its way along the narrow streets and hits the t-junction at the bottom of my road at a speed of about sixty kilometres an hour. There’s some serious turmoil as many thousands of litres of water try to battle it out at the t-junction. Spanish plumbing, especially in very old bits of old towns, consists of grids in the street that scoop water into the storm drains. Most houses have patios and terraces open to the elements, and they have grids too, and underground drains which are linked directly to the stormwater drains.

The other day we had a heavy storm rumbling in from the east and a thunderstorm charging in from the west and they met pretty much overhead. It was bucketing down, soak-you-to-the-skin-in-seconds rain with crashing thunder and crackling lightning and I was really rather enjoying it when suddenly, and without  any warning, every drain in the house gurgled and erupted.

My downstairs bath and loo became brief fountains, the drains in the atrium and terrace burped up deliciously muddy storm water, and although I was lucky enough to have enough towels to jam into doorways to stop my downstairs apartment being flooded, other neighbours were complaining bitterly afterwards of being ankle-deep throughout their downstairs areas. I watched glumly from my towel barricade as my heavy-duty doormat floated sluggishly away and the smaller pot-plants in the atrium started shifting restlessly and still it rained. Poured.

Finally, after nearly two hours, the heavens closed again and the drains reversed themselves and started behaving normally, sucking away the flood from everywhere and leaving an attractive thin film of mud in its wake.

The Ayuntamiento (Council) had, so far as we could see, several options. Do nothing, and get lynched by several very angry householders. Put a big grid in the road at the intersection above us, and divert future floods along side streets where the water couldn’t pick up such speed. Fit every affected house with non-return valves. Or – their choice – dig up the entire road. No idea why, but it has been noisy.

By purest luck I didn’t have guests at the time  -although nearly every guest I’ve had so far has been absolutely fab, it would take a saint to take that in their stride.

I do have guests at the moment but they’ve been wonderful about the roadworks, which started on their third day.  They are a pair of Estonian blondes and the workmen stop work reverently the minute they step out of the house to go anywhere, and watch them wistfully out of sight.

Before them, and before the flood, I had an older Polish man and woman, friends who had taken the entire G suite, i.e. both bedrooms and the shared living room. The woman was very dramatic, and had a bracing personality. She said on her second day that the suite was lovely but I really shouldn’t advertise that it included a kitchen.

Um, I don’t. I’m in fact pretty clear on that.

She recovered quickly and said sternly ‘you don’t say it doesn’t have a kitchen.’  Guilty as charged but in my defence, there are over 30 photos on the listing, the ones of the living room do show quite clearly the fridge, kettle, table, no kitchen sink or oven  … anyway her main beef was the lack of a sink, and as I had a cancellation after them, and therefore an empty week, it now does have a sink.

What else – oh yes, Nineteen Twenty My Plate Is Empty is now up and running. Right now it is on a pre-publication price as it only officially hits your Kindle on October 6th. Click on the name here, or the pic in the sidebar and you shall be whisked to the Amazon nearest to you. I am not making much fuss about it today but will be issuing a flurry of tweets tomorrow because I am hoping to get a tiny surge of purchases around 6 pm GMT – well, we’ll see. It is, goes without saying, an absolutely brilliant book and fiendishly difficult to solve, even though I have checked and double-checked that every clue is in place and in plain sight.  It is also the last in this particular series and I shall miss my Lawns friends very much, I think.

So that, I think, is us up to date …

 

 

Payhip for dummies, writers and readers #iamwriting

Payhip for writers wanting to sell books is pretty simple.  I want to load my books on this website  (under the Shop tab) (haven’t done it yet, gies a break) so I could keep all that lovely filthy lucre to myself (apart from the chunk Paypal takes) but also to eventually have all sorts of other interesting options.

Payhip is linked to Paypal for sales of anything that can be downloaded. It records sales, keeps track of tax, and other useful things, and there are dozens of blogs and vlogs and experts out there to tell you in tortuous detail why you should use it and how to use it. The only thing you really need to remember is that your Paypal account shows your writing or publishing name, not your non-writer name. Link a business option to your existing account, if necessary, because you do want your writer name to show on the purchase.

That sorted, go into Payhip, and link your account to the writer version of your Paypal account. Follow screen directions. I have all my books in mobi format. Some enthusiasts are very thorough and load the books in mobi, epub, pdf, and who knows what all else. Many formats are accepted.

Load your first book and then you should probably buy it to check all is well. You’ll pay for it on your private Paypal, not the one you just linked to Payhip.

If all goes well, there will be a positive flurry of emails on your respectively linked email accounts congratulating you on both buying and selling a book. You can download the book from Payhip itself, or from the email confirming your purchase.

Payhip for readers who bought a book and want to read it on a Kindle. This is the entire reason for this blog, because I refuse to believe I am the only person left in the world who uses a desktop computer rather than a neat little device small enough to be tucked into an evening handbag. Unless you want to read on your computer, rather than tucked up comfortably somewhere in the best place to read a good book, you need to get it to your Kindle. Do you know your Kindle address? It is listed on the Kindle, under Settings, and will usually be your name @kindle.com.

Create a new email to send to your Kindle, go find your Payhip download (in Downloads) and attach it. Send. The book will download into your Kindle.

Promise.