Wednesday, 30 May 2012

It's sunny - let's go out to play.

Sorry, I'm going to be a bit British here, and witter about the weather.

I know that anyone in paid employment, with a boss and working hours and people who depend on them - they can't go out to play when the sun shines. And I include the self-employed here - if you don't work, you're not paid. And many of you can't be flexible with your working hours - I don't suppose any householder would be too delighted if the non-appearance of the plumber was due to him fancying a swim.

But there are a lot of us who, for whatever reason, are not working or can be flexible with our working hours. So - what do we do when the sun shines?

Here in the UK sunshine is precious. Take a trip to the nearest park or garden centre next time the sun shines - it will be full of people in light clothes, moving freely, as if they've unfurled after months cuddled in cardies. Children, feet released from the tyranny of wellies, can run at last. Men throw frisbees. Women eat ice cream.

I know - some people need to sit in the shade. Those with hay fever survive only by dripping drops in their eyes and shoving drugs up their noses (you know what I mean - not the Hard Stuff). But even those who struggle with the heat acknowledge that the sunlight brings a wonderful change of mood, smothers the rainy greys with colour. And generally tempts even the most workaholic of us out to play.

So - here's a thought. Once we are out there, in the sunshine, chatting about the general wonderfulness of the weather, why do so many of us have an urge to lie down and go to sleep in it?

And yet, when night falls and we can take to our beds, we toss and turn and complain it is too hot to sleep?

Maybe it doesn't matter. Let's just enjoy the weather anyway, as it is not likely to last long (and may even have broken by the time you read this).

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Shock, horror. Older women not drinking cocoa by the fire.

Last week a woman broke her own record for being the oldest woman to climb Mount Everest. She is 73. (If you missed it, you can read about it here.)

And two women, Beryl and Betty, won a Sony award for the most entertaining programme - they are 86 and 90. Regrettably, it is only available in Humberside.

So - are we meant to be surprised that older women are not sitting in a corner talking about arthritis? That they can be fit, and funny?

I think climbing Everest is a huge achievement for anyone, men and women, aged 18, 44, or 73. It is seriously high, the air is whisper-thin, and the weather feels like a conspiracy. I can think of men of 34, thick-waisted and puffy-lunged, who struggle with two flights of stairs - sometimes due to lifestyle decisions but often the result of the health cards they've been dealt. Being healthy enough to climb a mountain at 73 has less to do with gender than luck on the health front and the time and enthusiasm to keep fit.

And as for the amazement that older women can by funny - scroll take a look at the cartoon in the Daily Mail here. Is it okay to laugh AT older women - but a shock to suggest with might laugh WITH them? The publicity has concentrated on their age, with no serious look at why they are funny, and what they can bring to our understanding of humour and why it works.

Surely it's time to stop stereotyping older people. Some are frail, and ill, and need support. Some are fit, and run marathons. Some are forgetful. Some grow wonderful roses. Some break their hips and grumble for a few weeks. Some are wonderfully funny and tell great stories. Surely it's time to celebrate the talents of older people, rather than this surprise when they don't conform to the drooling-by-the-fireside-with-their-cocoa image?

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Literature Festivals

Don't get me wrong - I love literature festivals. I love being around booky people, talking about booky things. I love hearing people talking about their books, and how they wrote them and why. I love the smell of bookshops. I even love the coffee in cardboard cups if I drink it them surrounded by books.

Last week, I was part of the Life Writers' presentation at the Swindon Festival of Literature. And wonderful it was too, with the group leader doing an introduction, several of us reading short extracts, and then enough questions to make sure we overran out allotted hour. We were - rightly - very pleased with ourselves. Some of us were not used to doing public stuff, so it was a confidence booster for them. And we sold some books.

So - how does one measure 'success', when it comes to a gig like that? The number of bums on seats? The liveliness of the discussion? The reality of laughter (so people must have been listening and not wondering what to have for tea)? The number of books sold?

These days, in spite of all our booky dreams, literature festivals have to be commercial enterprises. They must make enough money to justify running another, and another. Which is quite a challenge when more and more towns are gathering themselves to welcome writers and charging people to see them.

So - do we measure 'success' by the number of tickets sold? The number of books sold by each writer?

I think it's much more complicated than that. The delight I get from wandering around in booky places cannot be costed. But someone has to do the costing - make sure that profits are made. I'm glad it's their job and not mine - but that doesn't mean I'm not aware that it must be done.

How do you think 'success' can be measured at festival? Not just literature festivals - music, flowers, trainspotters ...

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

What I learned along my self-publishing journey.

I said I'd reflect on the process of self-publishing, so here are my thoughts now my book is Far Away in the big wide world.

First - I must stress these are personal opinions. There will be those who can weave a path through the technology without coffee and chocolate - I salute you. I can't. There will be those to whom marketing is second nature - I am still rubbish at it. But, for what it's worth, here goes:

Self-publishing is not easy, but it is possible. Every time the formatting had hiccups or I lost pages of text, I reminded myself that other people managed - and so could I. I might have to read the instructions many times, get the techy stuff translated - but I did it. Of course I felt like giving up at times, but that's why god made chocolate.

The biggest problem is formatting. Your lovely manuscript, that looks so pristine on the page, is quickly mangled the minute you try to change the format. And change the format you must (unless you had the presence of mind to think as far ahead as publishing when you began playing with your first draft). You don't have to like it - but you do have to accept it, and then settle down to untangle it. Then - just when you think you've got it right, it will tangle again. Tantrums are allowed, but only if they give you the energy to try again.

The ebook - in some ways this is more straightforward, as you can read the whole thing on your computer screen. But, though this make formatting blunders obvious, typos are much harder to spot. And the one thing you want to avoid, if at all possible, are typos and major grammar problems. (Which is why I would alway advocate a copy editor, even if you are only producing a small ebook - if you are going to invest your time and effort into this, it is worth the cost of making this the best book it can possibly be.)

Once the formatting is sorted (which can take days) it's relatively easy to load the whole thing onto Kindle - but wait, you need a cover.

And a cover for your print book. Trawl through all the advice-blogs; you don't need me to tell you how important the cover is. If you don't have a wonderful son-in-law to help, it is worth paying for this, too.

And then the print book. I won't go over the Createspace v Lulu debacle. Suffice it to say that the process for a POD book is similar, though the formatting is different (of course). And you get a proof of your lovely book to hold, and smell, and wave at people, and remind you how clever you are writing all this ... and then you have to read it, looking for mistakes. Yes - you really do. I know, you've read it so often your eyes bleed at the first sentence, but this is the last chance to find typos. (Someone suggested reading it backwards - which worked for me. I meant I didn't skip bits because I knew them too well.)

And then the marketing. Sorry, I have no advice on marketing. Even the thought of marketing can bring on a fit of the vapours. If anyone wants to chip in with marketing - or any other thoughts on your self-publishing experience - then please do. Maybe someone will have found it easy?

Sunday, 13 May 2012

New stuff for old!!

I have a new passport.

I know, it's a tedious administrative necessity, getting a new passport. Get the photograph (no glasses, definitely no smiling - not even a twitch of the lips to suggest there might be anything comic in standing in front of grey paper with all your wrinkles on show). Fill in the wretched form. Take it to the post office where someone takes delight in checking every box, making you feel like a five-year old taking your lessons to teacher. Will you get a tick or a Big Red Cross?

Off it goes. With the old one (evidence, apparently, that I'm a real person). Trouble is, I've grown rather attached to the old one. It's battered, with crinkly corners. And almost every page is crammed with visa forms and immigration stamps and disembarkation stamps and illegible stamps that could be anything.  Evidence that I really have been to all those places, done all those things. Three stamps for Nepal; three for Cambodia; three for Singapore. Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia. Several trips to America - for work, and to see friends as well as the road trips. A trip to Venezuela when a daughter lived there.

Sometimes it all feels a bit unreal - as if it was someone else did all those things, while I sat in my lovely Wiltshire garden and tended the daffodils. Then I'd pick up the old passport, and drool over memories. Yes - that really was me, did all that.

And now - I have a new passport. The old one has been returned to me - so I can still pick it up, rub my thumb across the faded crest on the front, peer at visas and blurred stamps that take me straight back to the pristine airport in Singapore, or the chaos of the land border between Nepal and India.

The new one - with its e-chip and strange pixellated photo, smells too new. The pages are too crisp - and empty. It's crest is too bright, the motif legible. It taunts me with its newness - think you are a traveller, it says, and you've been nowhere. In time it will become an opportuntiy. But today it is just Too New.

So - I hadn't realised how much my passport matters to me.

What do you have that is aging, and comfortable, and part of your story? How will you manage when it no longer functions and you have to get a new one?