The Min.

In a week and three days it will be Miniatura at the NEC.

I stopped telling you all about it in advance in a superstitious way because as soon as I did something occurred and I was unable to be there.  It was nothing minor, it was cancer and broken arms.

On Friday it’s the funeral of my cousin and the following Friday I’ll be setting up at the NEC.

Miniatura has become one of those events that will happen regardless, like Christmas, a tax return, another birthday and rain.  In a world gone crackers and nuts and all wrong, something so enduring is a source of calm and comfort.

It is, reliably, more than you can see in a day if you want to see every artefact on every table.

It has, reliably, something to make you think: Well, I can do that, something to make you think: I might be able to do that with help and something you know you could never make in a million years with all the help in the world because the thing is just mind blowingly wonderful and art and tiny.

It will, reliably, make your feet tired.

There will definitely be things you want  to buy, there will also be things you just have to have and things you would like if you won the lottery.

There will be lovely people you want to hug.

There will not be someone there who you were hoping to buy from last time but forgot in the rush.  If you want it and you see it you should get it, always.

You will have to waste time eating, sitting down and going to the toilet.

There will be someone whose guts you hate because they have made something fantastic that you wish you had made but didn’t think of it.

You will, reliably, go home spent up, absolutely knackered and totally inspired.

When you get home you will sit with your feet right up and go through all the little paper bags and feel ludicrously happy, until you remember the item you meant to buy but got distracted and then you will start the shopping list for next show (only six months to go.)

I love Miniatura.  In a world gone mad, with people missing and bits dropped off, it is a day or two of completely reliable happiness.

I’ll see you there.  October 5th and 6th NEC, Birmingham, UK.

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Strange things happen to the time after a bereavement.  Some hours drag by, most plod.

Whilst each hour takes you further from the source of sadness, though it would seem to soothe, every second is one more in which the person you are missing has not been alive, which is more cause to lament the hours that pass, carrying someone away from you on a tide of time.

I have not seen my cousin much over the last few years.  He married eleven years ago, finally, and his new wife bore him off like a trophy, which she had every right to do and they settled, at last into coupledom, which was all I ever wanted for him.  On probably hundreds of occasions he had visited, had a lovely time and then gone home alone.  It was certainly time he had time as half of a couple.

Then there were the five years I was caring for my mother which left hardly any time for anything else, not to mention all the weeks I tried to live there, followed by all the weeks I tried to live here and there simultaneously.  Then there were the months when the OH was meeting and marrying his wife, all centred round the death of her father; any spare time left from my family was given to their family.

Then my cousin had cancer and was too ill to travel and so had I and was I.

You always think there will be time.

There is no antidote or cure to the river of time that sweeps all people away from you, that’s just what it does.

You have to make sure you are present in your own life, for every second of your own life.  Time out ingesting substances, is time stolen from yourself.  Time spent living in your head in recriminations or anger or resentment is time you allow the past to steal from now.

My cousin was an accepting person.  He never got in a stew about anything, however I was, was OK with him.  As a result all I remember of all the time we spent together is laughter.  We laughed such a lot at such silly things, we were never together without laughing.

If your time with someone is precious, and all time with people you love is precious because it is limited and you cannot see the end from here, make sure whatever you do in the time you have together will look good as a memory, when a memory is all you have.

Laughter makes a good memory.  Kindness makes a good memory.  Smiling at someone is a good memory.  A lovely paper letter is a wonderful memory, it’s an authentic voice from a happy time.  Gifts are best if made. 

Time itself, time spent together, generously given to me by my cousin who travelled from wherever he was for a Christmas dinner, a summer evening, an autumn afternoon, a child’s birthday.  These are the times I have, safe in memory.  I compare them with times spent with other people. Times going to visit my parents, once I had escaped, were always stressful.  The potential for being wrong was all-encompassing and whatever gift I had taken was never right.  Times spent with my in-laws were difficult too, it wasn’t their fault, my mother-in-law was ill almost as soon as I knew her and needed care, at our expense.

I try hard to make the times spent with the OH and his family as much like the times spent with my cousin as possible. All laughter, no agenda.

Soon it will be time to pack the memories away and get on with my life.  It could have been the other way round, it could have been him remembering me.

Time is the concept we use to measure the passing of life.  The Venerable Bede wrote that life was as a sparrow flying through a Saxon hall house.  The time spent flying through the house was not the reality.  The reality began when the sparrow escaped and flew free through the wind’s eye at the end of the hall, out from the candle light and into the sunshine.

I hope so.


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A week

A week. Just seven days,so much can happen.  So much emotion crammed into seven days and seven nights.

My cousin died.  He was only 71. I first saw him 65 years ago when we moved back to the North East of England. Instantly he became the nearest thing I would ever have to a brother. We were opposite physically.   I was small chunky and darkish. He was small delicate, blue-eyed with fair curly hair.  I liked dolls and reading. He liked Meccano, mud and trains.  We both liked the Beano and sand.  Living two streets apart we went every weekday to our respective schools.  He went across the river on a ferry, I went in the opposite direction to the posh girls’ school in the next town.  As our mothers were sisters and best friends we saw each other most weekends and every school holiday for weeks and weeks.

The beach was covered in yellow sand, punctuated with sea coal; if you looked up from the ditch you were digging for the sea to fill up, there was always a ship carrying coals from Newcastle to everywhere else, on the horizon. We went to Camel island and climbed the rocks to see the view of the nearby sea stack, stacked with Kittiwakes who would rise, crying into the sky in huge numbers and fall off back to the rock one by one.

Then you could build a sand castle and excavate it, he from one side and I from the other, until you could lean your head in the sand and see each other through the tunnel. Blessedly my difficult, controlling mother was occupied, putting the world to rights to her little big sister.  I was free to play in the rock pools, watch the sand wash between my toes and make sand cars round my cousin. or have him make them round me.

Every Christmas was the same. At his house we played games and he would be forced to show his presents and give me something from his tuck box and make a face.  Quite why they never just had a liquorice pipe put aside for me I don’t know.  At our house the same display of conspicuous wealth, though I never had sweets, sometimes my father would subject us all to a slide show.  ‘Now this is, oh what’s that.  I don’t… oh, it’s upside down.  That’s it. Got it.  No, what’s wrong?  Ah, back to front.’  When he put the lights on we had all gone to sleep.

There was Christmas Tea, a major event for my mother, followed by Just A Small Sherry and Morecombe and Wise.

And we laughed.  We always laughed. I laughed a lot when he was around.

We grew up, moved away. Jobs and so on.  I married, he was the best man.  We settled, he visited.  I had the S&H, he came and played with him under the table, under the bed, on the floor.  The S&H did not want a train set, which was a great disappointment to both of us as we had plans.

He visited a great deal.  He went round the world, sending postcards and letters to me and to my grandmother from everywhere.  Our grandmother said she felt as if she had been round the world with him.  So did I.

There were fleeting girlfriends but they were never going to match up to his mother, who sat up in bed one day at the age of 80 and suddenly died.  One Self Employed Works Outing and Christmas Party at my house he looked up over the turkey and said he’d met a girl at a party and that was how I came to acquire Aussie rellies just eleven years ago.

We even had cancer at the same time but on Wednesday he sat up in bed and died.

Sometimes on the beach, when it was really sunny, the sea fret would roll in like clouds.  You could barely see your feet in the sand, the seagulls sounded muffled and the damp got into everything and made you shiver.

The publisher is a scam. I have adhesions that hurt all the time.  The builders have knocked down the arch, there is rubble outside and junk in heaps inside.  The plumbers have left a hole in the wall.

I can’t even hear the laughter draining away on the tide, the mist is so thick.


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In this column I have frequently written about junk.  The detritus of living.  The stuff we bought with actual money which is now cluttering up the corners of wherever we live, covered with a layer of dust and some cobwebs and decorated with a ticket, a twist tie, a pebble and a little key.  What is the key for?  When did we ever have a door that feeble or a suitcase that tiny?

The builders announced, a mere year after being asked, that they would commence building the extra rooms on top of the garage, to accommodate the grandchildren who now live in another country altogether but may visit if there is somewhere to put them.

The builders, however, following the plan drawn by the architect, who appears to have vanished prior to the visit of the building inspector who has that many questions for him, cannot begin.  They are unable by virtue of the boiler for the hot water and central heating, an outside tap and a sink which are all connected to a wall which will be demolished.

So first the plumbers.

All week I have had plumbers.  Their two day visit, already three, will recommence after the bank holiday.  On Thursday I was quite keen to make use of the facilities in the smallest room, two of which I possess.  One had no water and the other had no floor.  I went next door in the end.

The bank holiday.  A hot bank holiday.  What am I doing?  Clearing out the garage which next week will have no walls or roof and in which live two kilns, umpteen moulds, all my masters, gallons and gallons of slip and everything else one collects in the course of thirty years of making dolls in the garage.

The OH has been rubbish.  He has stayed out of the way.  He has rested his eyeballs in front of the TV.  He is currently out practising his darts. I am just slogging on.  I am filthy, sweaty, tired and disenchanted with tidying up thirty years of junk.  (Though I did find some cracking plant labels, unopened packet, result.)

None of which matters in the slightest because I am a person with a publishing contract.

Oh yes I am and they want the pictures.

You may sing.

I have, all week.


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The pace of the pace.

I have often thought, in my life, how very nice it would be if things happened in a discrete fashion, so that you could enjoy them or endure them one at a time.  Maybe people with more organised lives do this.  It certainly couldn’t hurt.

Then there are folks who complain about their lives being humdrum. The old routine and all that.  I have written previously of how very treasurable I find boredom to be because, round here, it is a rare commodity.

I would have liked, for example, to have stopped feeling sick before I had quite so much work to do.  I am, however, in the process of discovering how to manage my condition.  The condition is that five exploratory keyhole incisions have left my intestines narrowed and bound up with scar tissue, which is what has caused the last eighteen months of surprise hospital admissions.  Because of the number of constricted passages, quantities of fibre cause a blockage. Now I know this and if I am not to spend the rest of my life on little bowls of gruel like some character out of Dickens, experimentation is necessary.  What I found out two days ago is that a veggie burger in a bun and a few fries is too much.  Now I recognise the problem I know the solution, which is to not eat for a couple of days but drink plenty in little sips, which is what they did every time I turned up in hospital.  Whilst this is happening I feel horribly sick and only want to sleep.  I have a feeling the process of discovery will be slimming.  I wonder how many points you score at Weightwatchers for intestinal blockage?

Then there are plumbers.  Central heating, rather than internal.  The builder, beginning and being partly resident for six months, needs to knock down the outside wall which currently accommodates the boiler for the heating.  He suggested, therefore, that the best place for the boiler would be in the downstairs toilet.  I called the plumber in, mostly to express my opinion that situating a boiler in a downstairs toilet is an ideal way to ensure that spanners get dropped down the toilet fairly frequently.  The plumber agreed and is coming on Wednesday to install a thing called a combi boiler in the airing cupboard.  I suggested to the OH that the airing cupboard, thick with the dirt of ages, would benefit from a coat of paint, so that the boiler was not installed over old filth.  Not only did he agree, he did it, which as I have been suffering from jammed burger, was a welcome intervention.

Simultaneously. in the way of things round here, the neighbours at the bottom of the garden had their massive fir tree cut down.  The massive fir tree has been a difficulty all the time we have lived here.  It cast its canopy over my garden.  After many years of trying to grow stuff in the flower bed beneath and failing miserably because shed pine needles make the ground acid, I gave up and concreted that end of the garden, putting a little garden chair store in the corner, edging the rest in a shape with black paving edges, burying drains, carving JL 2007 on top and then filling the hole with very white gravel and a nice big stone.  Well, of course, the pine needles continued to fall, so my raked gravel zen garden gradually turned into a very stony flower bed that for some years I cleared until I became carer for my demented mother and no longer had time.  Now the tree has gone, which is an immense relief because I was always expecting it to fall on my writing shed and squash me flat, I have emptied the garden of the gravel, which I have tossed through the garden sieve to separate the needles from the stones and then retired to bed with my metal shoulder and the other frozen one on fire, which was all right because I was taking my jammed intestines there anyway.

Today I shall pressure wash my concrete bed, wash the stones in the wheelbarrow and then, with that area cleared, I can start emptying the bit under the boiler and the garage.

I vaguely recall, long ago, when I was a young teacher, wondering whether I should go to work with a cold, or flu.  I did go with flu, the first Christmas I was there and lay groaning on the chairs in the staff room.

What a wimp I was!  I had fully working intestines at the time, most of my internal organs, wasn’t married to an alcoholic, had never cared for anyone insane at my own expense and, in short, had barely lived.

It’s amazing what you can do if you try.  Right now I am going to try pressure washing a zen garden.

Meditatively, obviously.


Please do not buy anything in the shop, yet still.  I was going to get the help of the S&H to mend the link, so I know if you have bought something, which I still do not know, but I needed his assistance with another computer matter.  This undertaking occupied a whole evening with the OH on my computer and the S&H remotely in my computer from Wales and they sorted it out between them.  What they sorted I may be able to tell you next week. Meanwhile that was enough unpaid work for a week from the S&H who will always do computery things for his old mum.  Whilst this does make up, in part, for all the worry during the years that he was trying to run a business without actually getting out of bed, I nevertheless do not like to trespass on his good nature, willingness and cheerful disposition.  This being part of my ongoing efforts never to morph into my mother, who took any sort of willingness, turned it inside out and wore it as a hat, with a grievance.


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Whooshoo, der.

The rash turned out to be a viral thing going round the local hospital. I have just got over it and now I am sneezing.  On Thursday I have an MRI scan, following an outpatients visit, which comes under the heading of Just Checking.

Oh it’s all occurring.

In the middle of this I am trying to get some of the decks cleared for action.  The plumber has to come and redo the central heating ahead of the builder moving in, probably until Christmas.  He says it will all be over by Christmas, but that’s what they said about the First World War.  One of the first things the builder will do is to demolish the wall to which the boiler is attached.  Like Father William we grow old and cannot do without the central heating, so now, in what is theoretically the summer, the plumber will re route the heating pipes, put a new combination boiler in the airing cupboard upstairs, saw the water tank in the loft in half, having, I very sincerely hope, emptied it first and remove the bits, leaving a new space to accumulate junk in the loft.

In advance of all of this I am trying to make the Christmas cards to avoid sending cards with a light dusting of builder’s rubble this year.  33 made, 37 to go.  Then I have to start clearing the garage.  This would be fine were it not for the fact that the gardening equipment, which is what I’m clearing, needs to go out into my writing shed and it hasn’t stopped raining for days.

I am going to put the kilns in the lounge.  If you come for tea and find two new unusual tables with handles, say nothing. Then there are the bats.  Not cricket or pipistrelle, kiln bats, which are removable shelves,.  And pit props.  These are not pit props really, it’s just what I call the variety of ceramic shapes used for stacking the shelves and the wares, in the kiln.  I have not yet decided where to put five or six laundry baskets of moulds.  I have agreed with the builder that the wardrobe full of buckets of slip can be moved into the centre of the garage and they can work round it, with a tarpaulin over the top in case it rains because the garage will no longer have walls or a roof.

And I am hoping the MRI scan reveals nothing untoward because I have a week after it to do all this lot if the rain continues now.

Did I say it was all going on?  It is but actually I don’t give a fig because I have started, after months of planning and plotting (literally) to write the next book.

Life is behaving like buses again. Nothing for months and then several all at once.

Whooshoo. Excuse me.  Der.


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Well well.

I wish I was. Oh I do.

For the last three days I have had a rash all over.  Goodness knows what it is.  It started off in a band round my middle, right round the spare tyre.  Like tiny tyre tracks.  Treads. And I have been off my grub.  Though to be fair I haven’t really fancied anything since I was in hospital.  Knowing scar tissue had twizzled up your intestines does tend to put you off your food.

It started on Friday morning, a week after I had been admitted to hospital.  That sounds like a perfect incubation period to me.  The OH, who worked in hospitals for many years, has always said they are places full of infection and to be avoided if possible.  He took a photo yesterday, when the rash had joined up and spread up and down.

Closest thing to it as a picture on Tinternet is a drug allergy, which qualifies as a medical emergency but I have frequent flyer miles in A&E and simply couldn’t face another four hours on the metal chairs.  Anyway, drugs, what drugs?  I don’t think the supermarket vitamin pills that I bought because they were reduced in price, count at all and anything else, serrapeptase, peppermint capsules and glucosamine, which is all the anything else there is, is all stuff I have taken for years.

So I shall be off to the doctor tomorrow, providing I am spared overnight and can get an appointment, so I’ve washed my hair and put the curlers in because I always like to go to the doctor looking my best, you know, healthy, full make up, smartly dressed.  I am, as I have already told you, in common with everyone I know, my own worst enemy.

I need to get well.  Well, I do.  Not least because the builders have said they will at last start in three weeks building the extension over the flat roofed garage so that I will have enough bedrooms for my grandchildren to come and stay.

As a child I frequently stayed with my grandmother on Saturday night and went to church with her on Sunday morning.  With hindsight this might have been as much for my parents as me.  My father was a member of Round Table, which organisation often had dinner dances on a Saturday night.  I recall my mother heading off for one of these in a red velvet dress with a sculpted bodice and a spectacular skirt supported by masses of petticoats.  1950s glamour was really something that I don’t believe we recovered subsequently.  Hollywood red carpet costumes have been more about the freak show than a celebration of true glamour, of late and nobody dresses for dances anymore.  There are no dances anymore.  Just night clubs with people moving strangely to garage music, apparently and no doubt pantry music, shed music and garden pond music.  (If any of those manufactured items are a real thing that’s entirely coincidental.)

Saturday nights for me I believed were entirely for me.  As my grandmother had ten grandchildren I sometimes had to share her with another grandchild but, as a mother of five, she was well practiced in making sure no one felt left out.

We were allowed to watch television dressed in our pyjamas whilst enjoying  Evans nicer lemonade in a green glass with a metal cup holder handle.  In this would be a scoop of Minchellas ice cream.  I remember the taste of it. The ice cream was freshly made locally, the lemonade had big bubbles but was not very sweet.  It seemed to last a long time.

On Sunday morning you were given a bath, with a scoop of Daz clothes washing powder in the water to make the water very slightly foamy and a bit gritty on the bottom of the bath.  Then you were sent back to bed for half an hour to warm up because washing all over weakens people, obviously.  Then you got up, got dressed in your best and went to church, a village away, sang a lot of hymns and were entertained silently by your grandmother if the sermon was lengthy.  This she did with hand games.  The favourite was to spread her fingers out and up to create spare skin on the back of her hand that you could build walls with, which she could make disappear by making a fist.  On the way home we would play a walking game, where you would both walk in step and suddenly she could wrong foot you so you were walking out of step and had to skip to keep up.

The joy of these great wonders of entertainment I naturally wish to share with my grandchildren when they get a little older, therefore, as they have moved and now live some distance away, bedrooms are required.

I have had a consultation with the builder.  It will be necessary to take the lid off four rooms and leave us open to the elephants.  All of which interesting horrors you can look forward to in future posts.

Meanwhile, if I am still rashy in the morning I will take my spare tyre, and the rest of me, to the docs.

It is my sincere wish to be done with the medical profession. Really. I bear them no ill will but I tire of their company.  In the AM I will see if my unattired tyre tires of their company, and then, providing my demise is not imminent, I have to clear the garage.  (Not the music, the actual garage.)


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Back to the future of the future.

Did you miss me?  I’ve been in hospital again. I wouldn’t say I’m cured but I feel better than I have for eighteen months because at last I know what is wrong.

I knew something was wrong ever since I went back into hospital after the hysterectomy, vomiting blood.  They kept me for eleven days, said I was all right and sent me home.  Nothing happened until the following November.  Then the same thing occurred, this time they said I had Norovirus.  What I really had were doubts.

On to this year. In March I had the problem, stayed at home, slowly recovered. Same thing in April.  May I turned up in hospital with it and was sent home.  Then again on Thursday.  I went to A&E and was sent home where I went straight to bed, do not pass go do not collect £100.  Ooh I felt ill.  In total that had been 7 times since the surgery and it was the same every time.  I felt ill. Over the next six hours my stomach swelled until it looked as if I had swallowed a wok, then I vomited what looked like copious amounts of blood, at least a litre, then I felt better.

This time the OH went next door and consulted the neighbours.

My neighbour just happens to be the orthopaedic surgeon (legs) for the local hospital.  He has saved me twice now. The first time when he told me to wait for the good surgeon to mend my broken arm and this time when he made a diagnosis without even seeing me.  He said it sounded like a pseudo blockage, to go back to A&E and what to say.  Reluctantly I got out of bed, packed a suitcase and dragged off to A&E and said what he told me to say.  I was eventually admitted, having spent the second lot of five hours on the hard metal seats in A&E in two evenings, by one o’ clock I was on a ward and at two in the AM I was wheeled down to the scanner and scanned and finally it was revealed that I had adhesions from the original cancer surgery that were stitching up my intestines with strings of twizzled up scar tissue, so that nothing could get through, certainly not large quantities of fibre such as the little box of coconut that I had eaten on  Thursday morning while I had done my emails.  So everything backs up including all the digestive juices, which I keep producing in an attempt to wash it all past the blockage until it all comes back up again and I feel better.

Quite why they hadn’t spotted this, which is, apparently, very common and a side effect of keyhole surgery, given that when the OH looked it up on his phone the description of the symptoms  was exactly me to the letter, I cannot say.  Two GPs didn’t spot it, a medical team in A&E didn’t spot it and hospital doctors on three occasions didn’t spot it.  None of which matters because my neighbour did and the scanner confirmed his diagnosis.

Now what happens is that we wait to see if the matter resolves itself.  If it does not or gets worse I finally saw, in hospital, the good general surgeon (good as rated by my neighbour) who will sort me out surgically if it gets worse.  I have a follow up appointment in three months to see how I’m doing and at last, for the first time in eighteen months I have stopped worrying obsessively because I know what is wrong. For a year and a half I have feared that the cancer was somewhere else in me because swelling up like a balloon and vomiting occasionally simply is not normal.

I had fears immediately after the operation when the surgeon told me she had done five exploratory keyholes before giving up and going in through the old scar.  If you poke five holes in someone’s stomach, that’s five potential problems.  When she saw me before the surgery I was concerned because she looked very cold and not very well.  I asked if she was all right and she looked at me in surprise.  Perhaps first thing on a cold January morning is not the best time to find what you are searching for through a small hole, it’s like doing the bran tub at the local fair last thing on Saturday afternoon, what you’re likely to find is bran and the small packet of chewing gum that earlier visitors rejected.

Saved by the neighbour, as usual round here amazingly, I now know what to do, I shall take serrapeptase, which can dissolve scar tissue, I shall eat small wet meals, drink a lot of fluids and get on my vibration plate to work out.  Above all I shall be glad that finally I feel as if I am back to having a future.  I shall also get on with plotting the second novel, the characterisation of which I nearly completed in hospital.  (Of course, sick as a dog, but still writing.)

First I am going to make a thank you card for my neighbour and thank him thankfully, where would I be without him?*

*Dead with a broken arm.


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Knuckle scrapes.

How do you think?

Isn’t that a good question?

How do you think?

Supposing you wish to conceive an idea, a design, say, for a much better way of getting the duvet into the duvet cover.  Perhaps a way of holding the acres of fabric that you could teach in a video, or a small device that could do the grasping at the time the ends slip out of your fingers just as you had them very nearly up to the corners.  Or, mayhap, a collapsible machine that would stow away under the bed.  It would have to work on all sizes of duvet from cot quilt to super dooper oligarch four poster size. It would have to be easy to manufacture and so obvious that every entrepreneur on the planet would expend endless research budgets trying to go one better and failing miserably.  Finally, in the far distant future, long thin silver people with giant heads would watch the bed robot change the air duvet and tell their pupae ‘Humans used to do that by hand, long ago,’  and they would all fall around laughing.

So, how do you think of that?  I know you are now, because I’ve just put the idea in your head.  What is more, I know you will think of it at least twice.  Now and next time you change the bed.

I find it interesting that if a thousand people read this column, they will think of the solution, or dismiss the question, in a thousand different ways.  Did you know that there are more potential connections in the human brain than atoms in the known universe?

That is what thinking is.  It is electrical connections in the human brain.  It’s your synapses waving to each other through the fog.  Your life experience strengthens certain connections and leaves others alone until a pathway is established.  Once the pathway is there the electric thoughts flash along like one of those images of night traffic in Shanghai, or Las Vegas, or Pigend village on a Saturday night (two bicycles and a badger.)

That is what happens when you think, your will, your soul, your Id, your you commands the grey matter, which in itself is thinking, to think and instantly, magically, your plastic brain (in the sense of movable, not in the sense of bottles clogging up the nearest whale), lights up, whirrs around for a bit and comes up with ‘Dunno, need chocolate.’

Thinking is incredible.  In half a page of reading you’ve considered making an invention, visited the future, imagined three different locations on the planet  and one under the sea and even thought about your brain doing all this thinking and now you want chocolate and your eyes haven’t even left the page yet.  Unless there’s a fly in the room.  And now, even if there isn’t, there’s a fly in your head.

I’ll just stop for some quick chocolate (I’m my own worst enemy, I really am.)

So wherefore all this thinking thinking, hmm?

I am plotting the next novel and have found that the best way to generate ideas is to paint the shed.  (I did.  It was Oxford blue, very ten years ago.  Now it is Celtic Cream.  Looks fresh as new paint, for some reason.)  My brain, distracted, gets on with the thinking all on its own.  (I had to keep going indoors to write the ideas down.)  Or I get on with a workout and have to keep getting off the twist stepper to jot down plot twists.

Or make Christmas cards, which I am currently doing.

So that’s how I think. I very deliberately don’t.

How do you think? (You won’t have any idea now I’ve asked but you may wake up in the middle of the night shouting ‘I put my special thinking jeans on Jane, you git, I was having a nice dream!  Or ‘I was just talking to the vicar and suddenly invented a new sort of toaster.’  Or ‘I was eating my sixth waffle and suddenly realised what to do about my weight problem.’)

The human brain, thinking, is the most amazing thing in existence on this little blue planet all alone in the universe. (And here we are in outer space.)  And back home in front of the Internet, thanks to Tim Berners-Lee, who thought of a way I could tell you what I’m thinking once a week and you could tell me: How do you think?


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Once more with feeling.

I have made the second submission.

Two pinfalls or a submission!  Come out swinging.  I want a nice clean fight and you can take the horseshoe out of your glove, straightaway.  AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAnd box!

This time it is to a publisher, who appeared in a search engine as accepting online submissions for original novels.  I wonder if I might be better with an agent and I did have quite a list to choose from.  However, having spent an evening perusing the options, when I logged back on to the computer I found that, of all the sites I had visited to have a look, this publisher’s site was the one the computer had left visible on the desk top.  There was a song in the Sixties about casting your fate to the wind, which may or may not have been inspired by constantly eating beans, who can say, but anyway, I did.

Not constantly eat beans. No, submit.

They did say that they were offering two types of contract.  The normal one and what they are calling a partner contract, where you share the costs of publication.  This is what used to be called vanity publishing which no writer worth their salt should touch with a bargepole.   There were publishers who specialised in it in days gone by and probably currently, if you were to look for them.  How this works is you send them your manuscript, they say it’s wonderful and tell you how much, you pay and some months later several boxes of books turn up for you to sell.  This is the essence of vanity publishing.

Nevertheless, this publisher did mention normal contracts in which a publisher takes a chance on a writer writing something good enough to make money for both of them.  That is the publisher’s job.  They earn by being able to pick out the authors who will sell from those who will not.  They have to be well read, or employ people who are, and be able to slog their way through all the submissions to find the needle in the haystack.  I would hate that.  I have an old friend, a great reader, who is a publisher’s reader and gets paid by the number of manuscripts she can get through.  Having spent so many years teaching, which involved reading and marking essays, I don’t think I could do that.  For the right person it’s the working from home dream job, for the wrong person it’s a nightmare.

Life is full of talent shows.  Do you watch those on television?  I have never done so, mostly because I just want everyone to succeed.  The thought that there are ‘celebrities’ happy to make a living by being nasty to hopeful people, is anathema to me.  The foundation of all this unnatural selection, sadly, is money.  One of the reasons I was so readily asked to the party as a magazine columnist was the ability my funny column had to sell magazines.  I made thousands upon thousands of pounds for the publishers at twenty pounds a page for me.  When I got sufficiently famous I went on strike and managed to up it to twenty-five pounds a page for all the writers, which was still peanuts compared to what the publishers were raking in.

It takes a lot of people to make a magazine. There are the people at the paper mills, taking trees, waste paper and rags and turning them into paper, figuring in the cost of the rag collectors, tree fellers, tree planters and others into the selling price of the huge roll of paper their machines turn out.  The huge roll of paper goes to the printers who have the printing machines, ink and these days, the computers, to figure into their costs.  I was working in a language college in the Seventies just as newspapers were changing from typeface to digital.  I used to take parties of students to the local newspaper at the time that journalists were cutting out typed columns with scissors and gluing them next to a monochrome photograph to make a page to be photographed in one room. In the next, on the other side of a glass screen, journalists were carefully ‘typing’  stories into a new fangled device called a computer, which would organise the words on to a page that only existed in the electronic brain of the computer until it was sent to the press.

By the time I was writing for the magazine it was all digital.  The people who got paid plenty were those who could work the powerful new computer programme that arranged the words and pictures to make a page.  Once the pages had been composed they could be sent to a printing press wherever in the world the costs were cheapest.  By this stage there were still a lot of office workers on the payroll.  One newspaper has become famous for failing to employ enough proof readers. Elsewhere, despite automatic spell checkers, they are still highly paid individuals because ‘making sure we are not printing rubbish’ is a continuing concern of all publishers.

Which is, of course, where the readers make their appearance.  If enough of them are engaged by the story and the way of telling it, it will get passed up to more important people who will have meetings about it and finally someone quite senior will decide if they are all going to have a flutter on having picked a winner.

The author cannot expect to make much at first, mostly because they are paying so many people, from the person who plants the pine seed in the nursery to the boy who makes the tea in the print works.  Eventually, if everyone in the food chain keeps their end up, especially the writer, the writer’s name alone will be enough to invoke the god of money who will smile upon all the toilers at the word face.

I did it once before.  Can I do it again?


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