December Reflections 4: if I were an animal… and Week-end

Fluffy black and white cat asleep with all her legs stretched out in front of her

The animal I know that’s currently spending as much time as I am asleep on the sofa is the cat, so there we go. Since having Covid in March I’ve been much more conscious of my body’s needs and desires; the thing is; it usually seems to want a nap, particularly at the moment. The next challenge is to roll with this as gracefully as the cat does. I am hopeful that I will have more energy come next year, but I would also like to continue to know what I want and need and to act on that.

The good

Tony’s work Christmas do last night; excellent fun. Let us hope that nobody has caught Covid. Last weekend, reading at both the morning service and the Advent Procession, at which I also served. Also, a very pleasant few days with family on the Isle of Wight. The sun came out on the last day and it was absolutely glorious.

The mixed

Going through boxes of family papers – letters, diaries, sketchbooks, and so forth. It’s fascinating; it’s a chance to get to know relations I barely knew or never met at all; and it’s surprisingly tiring. I more or less gave up for the day when I found my great-aunt Kathleen’s note of what she wanted all her siblings and friends to have after she died (which she did, aged 13 or so, in 1917).

The difficult and perplexing

Cold. Cold and tired. I don’t seem to have many suitable winter clothes at the moment and I’m not sure whether I ever did.

What’s working

Honestly? Napping.

Reading

I demolished Paris Daillencourt Is About To Crumble on the train south on Monday and then regretted it, the way one might regret a slightly-too-large cream cake. It was a bit issueficcy for my taste, though I did appreciate the section where Tariq explains that it is perfectly possible to be a person of faith who is also queer. (This, in my experience, is a conversation that often does have to be had in words of one syllable.) Then I read Poirot Investigates (short stories; Hastings particularly insufferable) and Truly Madly Guilty (Liane Moriarty) when I was on the Isle of Wight. I enjoyed that one; I think it’s the most psychologically plausible of Moriarty’s books that I’ve read so far, even if it isn’t so conventionally suspenseful.

Writing

Absolutely nothing (apart from these blog posts, obviously). I spent the train journey home looking out of the window and not feeling remotely guilty about it. I’m sure my brain will come back sooner or later and in the meantime I’m not going to worry about it.

Making

I took the tacking stitches out of the secret patchwork (the papers are staying in, for support). Pictures coming up in a few days.

Listening to

A couple of bands at the party last night – one dressed as Game of Thrones characters and doing an eclectic variety of covers (Take On Me, I Wanna Be Like You, Proud Mary…) and the other, The Captain’s Beard, dressed as pirates and doing folk rock, generally Irish or seafaring. Extremely good fun.

Cooking

Winter vegetable stew with cheesy dumplings. I cheated magnificently with the vegetable component – found a yellow-stickered bag of pre-prepped casserole veg in Tesco and chucked it into the pan with some oil while I made the dumplings. Worked very nicely.

Eating

There were some very nice canapés last night. Beef with horseradish sour cream. Cauliflower and beetroot. Tomato and feta.

Playing

Rummikub and Scrabble with my mother. We weren’t terribly impressed by Rummikub.

Noticing

An excessive (even for the Isle of Wight) quantity of roadworks. A waxing moon flirting with the clouds. Christmas decorations (today I saw that our opposite neighbours have hung big silver baubles in the bare trees outside their house).

Appreciating

Family, the connectedness of it, and the opportunity to know a little more of who and where I come from. Tony’s employer’s extravagant hospitality. Live music.

Acquisitions

I came home with a little packet of green beads my mother had been saving for me.

Hankering

Some sort of leg covering that keeps my legs warm, that I can cycle in, that fits me comfortably around the abdomen… I have never found trousers that fit me sensibly, and most of the time this isn’t a problem because I live in skirts instead, but at this time of year it doesn’t quite cut it. /goes off to look at woolly tights on Snag.

Line of the week

I’ve been looking at Polish Cooking (Marianna Olszewska Heberle), trying to work out how much of the traditionally meatfree Christmas Eve dinner can be fully veganised. She has this to say about carol singers:

If they sing in front of your house and you don’t give them food or vodka, they might pull your sleigh five houses down, or remove your fence gate, all in good humor.

This coming week

Back to work. I’m hoping to get quite a lot of loose ends tied up before Christmas.

Anything you’d like to share from this week? Any hopes for next week? Share them here!

Week-end: fantastic Tangfastic

A packet of Haribo Tangfastics with one sweet that appears to be composed of four individuals stuck together

The good

Co-tutoring a Speaking With Confidence course on Thursday. Helping people feel more able to do their thing and being able to enthuse about how writing works.

The difficult and perplexing

Ugh, the trains home from London afterwards. Apparently there was a bomb scare at New Southgate. Anyway, I didn’t get home until nine at night, and because the train was pretty crowded I couldn’t take my mask off and was getting more and more antsy.

The cat brought up a hairball on my computer keyboard. At least it wasn’t on the laptop, I suppose.

Far more serious than any of that, this week saw a difficult anniversary for some of my in-laws. I’ve been thinking of them a lot.

What’s working

Napping. Tangfastics.

Make-up. I can’t usually be bothered, but I like to put a game face on when I’m delivering training, and I got three separate compliments.

Taking my bike on the train to an appointment on Tuesday evening meant that what would have been a twenty minute walk on an unfamiliar road became a five minute ride on an unfamiliar road, and I was able to get things done and get the next train back.

Reading

I finished Destination Unknown, which I hadn’t exactly meant to do, but the cat was on my lap and there was nothing else within reach. Continuing slowly with Meet Cute. And I got to the Council of Elrond and out the other side.

I forgot to mention last week that I finished The Paris Apartment. Certainly twisty, but I don’t think it’s Foley’s best.

Writing

A tiny, tiny bit on the Romeo and Juliet thing. If I have very little reading brain, my writing brain is barely there at all.

Making

Secret patchwork project is 5/6 done, and I’ll be able to share pictures very soon.

Watching

Eurosport’s winter sports offerings; today, in particular, the Grand Prix Espoo.

Cooking

Supper today was pancakes stuffed with a sausage, tomato and cabbage filling, a bit like bigos except using fresh cabbage instead of sauerkraut. Except I can’t do pancakes, so the filling was on the side.

Eating

I had a really nice piece of Bakewell tart on Thursday. Kudos to the work canteen and whoever they get their cake from.

Noticing

A magnificent mutant Tangfastic (see picture). It seems to have been made of three dinosaurs and a dummy. I’ve eaten it now.

In the garden

The Japanese anemone is flowering. And I really need to sweep up some leaves. And prune the fruit trees.

Appreciating

My big Chinese quilted jacket. I got it for a few quid in a Cambridge charity shop several years ago and it is just the thing for winter.

Acquisitions

A few ebooks that were on sale in Kobo. Today I picked up two Chrestomanci books (Diana Wynne Jones) and a couple of Eva Ibbotsons too in the Ely charity shops. My inner twelve year old is very pleased.

Line of the week

Because the hotel in Destination Unknown sounds heavenly, or, one shoud say, paradisiacal:

This was what a garden was meant to be, a place shut away from the world – full of green and gold.

Saturday snippet

Here’s a bit from the Romeo and Juliet thing:

He slung his kitbag over the shoulder and crossed the footbridge, the noise of his boots on the iron treads drowned by the yell of the whistle. He paused for a moment at the middle. An express train was hurtling towards him on the up fast line, seeming to gather speed and detail as it approached.

This coming week

Advent starts tomorrow! I seem to be on all the rotas at once, but am departing for the Isle of Wight on Monday morning.

Anything you’d like to share from this week? Any hopes for next week? Share them here!

Week-end: particularly rapid unintelligible patter

The right hand front wall of a large wooden dolls' house stands open. A fluffy black and white cat is sitting in the first floor room

The good

Very enjoyable evening watching The Yeomen of the Guard with one of my brothers (and seeing his partner and son, hurriedly). More on that distributed through this post. Also, a work thing I’d been dreading turned out to be surprisingly fun.

Meanwhile, the Society of Authors’ AGM (for which I’d submitted my proxy vote) saw off two motions, one mealy-mouthed faux-motherhood-and-apple-pie maundering about free speech, one gloves-off nasty attack on Joanne Harris, the chair of the management committee. I think the most useful summary of what actually goes on in the SoA is this thread by Dawn Finch.

The Torygraph (and, to a lesser extent, the Grauniad) is of course reporting this as a victory for cancel culture. Interesting how it’s only cancel culture when it’s a particular set of views that encounter a robust rebuttal.

I often feel like a bit of a fraud as a SoA member, because writing isn’t and probably never will be my main source of income, but I came by my membership honestly and I’m very glad that the Society can continue to standing up for my fellow authors with, I hope, less of this infuriating distraction from a tiny but loud single-issue pressure group.

The mixed

Thursday got dreadfully complicated. It should have been a London day, but I ended up with a mid-morning appointment in Ely. That was positive and useful (and I didn’t particularly mind the half hour walk each way in the rain; I’d have cycled if I had) but it meant a dash down to London at the end of the work day, which meant cycling through an unholy combination of school run and Christmas fair traffic, again in the rain. And a late night, but that was always going to happen (and Tony had forgotten to leave the latch down for me, so I had to phone him to get him out of bed again).

Pleasingly, I got to Wagamama just as J and family got to the front of the queue.

The difficult and perplexing

My horrible noisy front mudguard. I must take a spanner to it. Again.

And I have very limited brain at the moment, and I’m finding it incredibly frustrating. I can get one or two useful/creative things done per day and that’s it.

What’s working

Well, not the bit of string that’s holding my mudguard in place, I can tell you that much. Hmm. Canned soup is proving very useful, though.

Reading

Not a huge amount (see: not much brain). I’m leading the readthrough of Destination Unknown (Agatha Christie) for my online romantic suspense reading group; it’s good fun and extremely of its time (touchingly naive about the McCarthy initiatives, for example). I started reading Meet Cute (ed. Jae), an anthology of extracts from various sapphic books; unfortunately it’s often more like Meet Cringe and hits my embarrassment squick hard. Although it has reminded me that I’ve occasionally thought of giving Vicki and Gianna from A Spoke In The Wheel their own book.

Writing

I returned to the Romeo and Juliet thing on Monday, but haven’t done much since.

Making

Mystery patchwork. One down, five to go.

Watching

The Yeomen of the Guard (English National Opera, London Coliseum) with my brother J. We were rather tight on time (Wagamama took a while to serve us) and got there half way through the welcome, and excoriation of Arts Council cuts, from the director. Which is not bad timing really.

Yeomen isn’t my favourite of the Savoy operas, but this production mitigated most of the reasons I don’t like it. They’d taken most of the thees and thous out of the dialogue (pastiche Tudor: not one of Gilbert’s strengths) and set the action in the febrile post-war period, with Colonel Fairfax a brilliant scientist and suspected spy. (I couldn’t help thinking of Destination Unknown.) This made sense both as an update on his alleged dalliance with the dark arts and of his character: he remains terribly poor stuff, but the ‘asshole genius’ treatment makes sense.

Most importantly, I think, they let it be what it always has been when you scratch the surface: a show about miserable people making terrible decisions. Pretty much everybody would end up happier if nobody took any of the actions they take. Except Fairfax, and he is, as I say, an asshole, not to mention pretty philosophical about dying until someone gives him an alternative.

They threw in the patter trio (except they somehow made it a quartet) from Ruddigore as a replacement for Rapture, rapture. I can’t say that Rapture, rapture is much loss. If they’d just skipped it altogether I might have got home half an hour earlier. On the other hand, I’m probably never going to object to the patter trio from Ruddigore.

There was some excellent singing (I was most impressed, I think, by Sergeant Meryll, and he was an understudy), some clever staging, some good acting (Jack Point, in particular), and, in among the misery, a lot of genuinely funny moments.

Cooking

Tagliatelle con cipolle, out of the Diane Seed book. I somehow managed to cook about half the tagliatelle that two reasonable people would want, so we ate in two phases.

Eating

Ginger chicken udon at Wagamama. Not bad, though I had to eat it too fast. Gingerbread fudge from the fudge shop in Ely (very nice; there’s black treacle, or something like it, in there, which makes it taste definitely like gingerbread as opposed to just like ginger). Last night I was too tired to cook so we got Indian delivered: I had chicken tikka makan palak with Bombay aloo.

Playing

Duolingo. Well, I’ve been doing it for ages and have a 600+ day streak, but this week I got the update that everyone’s been whingeing about. I don’t hate it, actually. It’s not as disheartening as the one that added five levels to every skill. I did in fact stop using it for a few years after that one, and then picked it up again when I was bored in lockdown.

Noticing

Long-tailed tits in the pear trees. A squirrel munching away on a bunch of ash keys.

A strange sound from the dolls’ house, which turned out to be the cat getting into the loft. I got a picture of two green eyes peering through the top window, and another of the descent of Ceiling Cat, but neither of them was as good of the one of her in the bathroom, at the top of this post.

Appreciating

The NHS. Affordable opera tickets, dammit (here’s the petition to get the ENO’s funding reinstated). The fact that you can phone people up and pay them money and they will bring you food.

Acquisitions

New bras arrived.

Line of the week

I subscribed to The Marginalian recently. This week they sent me some John Muir:

The scenery of the ocean, however sublime in vast expanse, seems far less beautiful to us dry-shod animals than that of the land seen only in comparatively small patches; but when we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.

Saturday snippet

From the Romeo and Juliet thing:

‘I’ve seen him before. Only once, I think.’ She glanced at the closed door, drew a packet of cigarettes from her skirt pocket, and lit up.

This was promising. ‘When? Where?’

Rosa thought that it might have been at somebody’s party, though, now she thought about it, perhaps it was at some club somewhere. ‘I’m sorry, sweetheart. I’m afraid he didn’t make as much of an impression on me as all that.’

‘Do you know who he is?’

‘Haven’t the foggiest.’ Rosa inhaled deeply and blew the smoke out again before she continued. ‘The odd thing is, he does seem familiar, but I can’t think how I would know him. We’ve certainly never been introduced.’

This coming week

Tidy things up at work before I take a week’s leave. Apart from that, not much. I might try to get to the Alexander the Great exhibition at the British Library. And maybe I’ll move the dolls back into the dolls’ house. Will Twitter fall over?

How about you? Anything you’d like to share from this week? Any hopes for next week? Share them here!

Week-end: doubly literary

Hardback copy of 'Double or Nothing' by Kim Sherwood, paperback copy of 'CATS: Cycling Across Time and Space' edited by Elly Blue, small metal cat with crystal eyes

The good

On Thursday night I went to the launch (or at least the second night of it – it seemed to be a multi-day event) of Double Or Nothing at the British Library. So did a lot of James Bond fandom. I got to meet David of Licence To Queer in person for the first time, and some of the other LtQ contributors and other denizens of Bond Twitter. Bond fandom is great. We are all well aware that our fave is problematic as all get out, and that saves a lot of time and bad feeling and lets us get on with the actually interesting conversations. And these conversations were very interesting indeed. In one of the non-Bond-related ones it turned out that two of us had stories in the same small press feline feminist cycling anthology. (What are the odds? Double or nothing on that one if you dare. There are only eleven pieces in the thing!) So I ended up feeling even more literary than I’d expected to.

The mixed

One of these days I’ll manage to find the balance between the things I want to do, the things I need to do, and accounting for my limited capacity. None of the days this week was that day.

Today was Ultreya GB, the gathering of Cursillos from across the UK, hosted by London and Southwark Cursillos, beginning at St Paul’s and ending up at Southwark cathedral. It was a great day, and I was very proud to carry the banner for Ely, but I was tired when I left this morning and am very tired indeed now.

The difficult and perplexing

Monday was grim. At one point I said, ‘There is nothing that I want to do, and everything that I should do is BORING.’ Then I sulked in bed for an hour or so, then did some things. The most memorable one was paying the council tax.

What’s working

Making sure I eat something every three hours. Though this is a bit double-edged, as I’m really noticing when I fail to do that now.

Reading

I finished Wanderlust. And (presciently, it now appears) CATS: Cycling Across Time and Space. Began Double or Nothing, obviously. And Havi’s new post.

Writing

Half a blog post on my pet cover copy peeves. You might get the whole thing next week.

Making

Good progress on the secret patchwork, in spite of the cat’s best efforts.

Watching

Only Connect is back on! And so is Star Trek: Lower Decks.

Looking at

Some lovely pieces by Ely Guild of Woodturners, who had an exhibition at the Lamb over the bank holiday weekend.

Cooking

Orchard fruit (i.e. apple, pear and greengage) crumble.

Eating

Crumble. Good for pudding and breakfast. Beef rendang from Borough Market this lunchtime.

Moving

I took the road bike out for the first time since I had it serviced in the summer. It turns out that hauling a town bike up Back Hill twice a week has made tackling the Coveney hill on a road bike a mere triviality by comparison. Maybe I should start logging my commute on Strava. Or not.

Noticing

I saw Hodge the cat when we arrived at Southwark cathedral, but he scarpered pretty quickly.

In the garden

The roses have returned for a second round. The vine has produced a load of very small pippy bitter grapes. I can’t face attempting home winemaking, so it’s a free for all for the birds. We continue to get tomatoes and French beans and greengages.

Appreciating

The little leather bag I got in Heidelberg. Into this I can fit my phone, my ridiculous bunch of keys, and a cereal bar, and it buckles under the saddle of my bike. I was hoping it would go over the handlebars, but the straps aren’t quite long enough. Never mind. It does very nicely under the saddle.

Planning

Christmas. Expedition to Belgium. Expedition to the South of France. Keeping some weekends free for Pete’s sake.

Acquisitions

A nice metal mop bucket to replace the plastic horror from Tesco that I’ve been cursing for the last seven years. (Every time you squeeze the mop out in the strainer thingy and then try removing the mop, the strainer comes with it. It’s infuriating.) Double or Nothing.

Hankering

There was a rather lovely carved stone nativity set in the gift shop at Southwark cathedral. But it was more than I would want to spend on a nativity set, and I might be at the point where my Playmobil one has become the correct one and doesn’t need replacing.

Line of the week

Oh, Babette, you cool kid sprawling in your honest cotton-shirted grime, boy, I never had a chance. I wasn’t from your neighborhood, where everything had pockets: coarse pants, softball gloves, subway corners, airshafts between women’s bars, where delis sat at the edge of high-rises feeding siren music to the pavement. All-night groceries with strong meats, girly calendars, an angry wilderness of empty lots and broken family hearts.

This is from a story called ‘Tank Top Tomboy’ in an anthology called 52 Pickup by Bonnie Morris and E. B. Casey. Honestly, I don’t know why I was still reading this, because most of the stories are dire. The last one had a romantic interest with ‘ebony pools’. And then suddenly I run up against this. Sheer poetry. Will I finish the book now? Probably. Will I be disappointed? Inevitably.

This coming week

Tour of Britain! Some in-person training. And I could really do with an early night or three.

Anything you’d like to share from this week? Any hopes for next week? Share them here!

Lint rollers: or why you can’t find my paperbacks on Amazon any more

A model of planet Earth hangs in the nave of a cathedral

I went to my local homes and gardens shop the other day, looking for a lint roller. The man on the till explained that they did not stock them, as the peel-off sticky bits can’t be recycled. He offered me a clothes brush instead. I said that so long as it would get cat hair off the sofa that was fine with me.

I publish my paperbacks through Lulu. It can be a massively frustrating process, but I have yet to hear of any other print-on-demand service being noticeably better. There are two ways to get your books out there. Or one and a half, really, I suppose. You can sell them through the Lulu bookstore. You can also choose ‘global distribution’, which makes it available through all the big retailers.

The snag – and this has become much more of a snag in the five years since I started doing this – is that the big retailers also wish to take their cut along the way. Which is fair enough. But printing costs have gone up, and so, I think, has the cut, and the gap is getting wider and wider.

Take The Real World. The minimum I can sell it for on Lulu is £6.90. If, however, I want to put it in for global distribution I have to whack the price all the way up to £13.72. Which is a silly price, so I put it as £13.99.

So I was in the slightly ridiculous situation of having to charge four pounds more than I considered reasonable for a paperback in order to sell the item on a platform that made me feel skeevy (because it was almost always Amazon) to make a few pennies on the sale.

And then nobody was buying them. Quite reasonably. I wouldn’t spend fourteen quid on a paperback. (OK, I do spend thirteen quid on the Girls Gone By reprints of the Marlows series: but have you seen how much they go for second-hand?)

One solution would have been to dump Lulu and go with KindleDirect Publishing. Or go with both. I couldn’t face wrangling a third platform, so ‘both’ was out. And going exclusively with Amazon would have made me feel very skeevy indeed, and probably also have lost me a few sales.

(I don’t avoid Amazon entirely, but if I can get a book somewhere else, I will. For various reasons. And it does make a difference as to whether I get it in the first place. There are a couple of authors who’d be instabuy for me if only they weren’t Amazon exclusive. As it is, I only buy the books that really, really, really appeal to me.)

Anyway, I was fretting about this for months. Then Lulu emailed to say they were putting their prices up. And I realised: I could pull my books from everything except Lulu.

I know, I know. It doesn’t seem fair to react to ‘Lulu putting their prices up’ by ‘removing my books from everything except Lulu’. But see above. Lulu drive me up the wall, but they don’t make me feel skeevy. And actually, a company being honest about the true costs of something was surprisingly refreshing. Stuff does cost money, and if we’re not paying for it, chances are someone else is.

So. The best place to get paperback copies of my books is now Lulu. It’s worth waiting until they run a 10% or 15% sale, which they do quite frequently; this ought to go some way towards covering the cost of postage. (Alternatively, my mother has six copies of The Real World which I got sent to her address and then forgot to sell when I was there, and then forgot to take away with me. Sorry, Ma. Do you want to post them?)

The ebooks of the two Stancester novels are on Smashwords, from which you can download them in every format I’ve heard of and some I hadn’t. I have made my peace with their not being on Kindle: when these ones sell, it’s usually because someone’s enthused about them on Weird Anglican Twitter, and the denizens of WAT tend to be sufficiently net-savvy to track them down. A Spoke In The Wheel is still on Kindle. I have no idea why the others broke and this one didn’t, but for the moment I’m going to let well alone.

But what of my principled local homes and gardens shop? Well, I didn’t buy a lint roller. I didn’t buy a clothes brush, either, but only because I phoned home and discovered there was one on order. I did buy a garlic press, a potato brush, and an ash bucket in which to keep the dried cat food. The cat meanwhile, has decided that she prefers sitting on the windowsill, which is much easier to sweep.

Fluffy black and white cat curled up on a cushion

C.A.T.S.: Cycling Across Time and Space – Kickstarter live now

Fluffy black and white cat seated on top of a bookcase, in front of a model bus

This is Port. As of last Monday, she lives with us. She has spent most of the intervening week sleeping, eating, mewing for attention, being generally gorgeous, and climbing up to high places. It is very good to have a cat around the house; previously we have had to make do with talking to other people’s cats. Which is not the same thing at all.

In other exciting cat-related news, the Kickstarter for the latest Bikes In Space anthology is now live, and the theme of this edition is CATS, and I have a story in there. In Miss Tomkins Takes A Holiday it’s some time in the 1930s and a union organiser sets out on a well-deserved cycling break, accompanied by her cat Aster. Trouble follows them, but the two of them are very well-equipped to deal with it.

There are ten other sci-fi/fantasy stories in there, all featuring cats and bicycles, and all looking like they’re going to be a fun read. The Kickstarter offers all sorts of combinations of formats and rewards, depending on whether you prefer paperback or ebook or fancy getting a T-shirt or sticker as well. Have a look.

A kid on a BMX bike flies across the moon with a cat in the basket shooting lasers out of their eyes