On the problem of popularity

On the problem of popularity

Perhaps it ought to be UNpopularity. I’m not quite sure. But a blog post needs a title and that will do well enough.

School days saw the problem rise first in most of our lives; hands up if you were the last or almost the last picked for teams? That was me, anyway. I don’t think anyone disliked me terribly much, but when it came to teams, there weren’t many who wanted me on their team. At least not until it became apparent (in sixth form) that I was an unerring attractant for balls. Get your mind out of the gutter; we are talking sports here. Baseballs, rounders balls, hockey balls. You name it, it smacked me hard somewhere on my body and I usually caught it as it fell in a sort of shocked reflex. Or in the case of hockey balls, deflected it either with stick or kickers. I got put in goal on the basis that I took up more of the goalmouth than anyone else, but I turned out to be quite a good goalie. It took till I was sixteen or so for my peers to spot that I got hurt a lot because the ball seemed to veer round specially to hit me; long term pattern recognition is not generally something teens tend to focus on. Regardless, I spent most of my school days feeling a bit left out and rejected.

Popularity among little girls is a strange thing and is based on attributes and skills I found baffling. What you wear, how you have your hair, having the right shoes (Start-rite or Clarkes didn’t cut it) and also having the right friends. But what I noticed was that the desire to be with the in-crowd skewed a lot of things. At junior school (8-11 years for non UK readers) there was a girl in my class called Lynn. Lynn was a very pretty girl with two sisters who all lived on a farm in the wilds of Cambridgeshire. The novelty of her living on a farm and her prettiness were two of the things that made her the Most Popular Girl in the Class. Other than that, I could see no reason why most of the other girls flocked to be her bestie. She wasn’t particularly kind, or clever or talented. But everyone somehow believed she was. Everyone copied the way she did things; they tried to dress like her and have their hair done the same way. She was supposed to be good at art; in fact, she’d probably have made a good cartoonist because she’d figured out a way to draw human figures quickly and accurately so that you could reproduce the same features over and over again. She was good enough to show me the method once and I used it for a while until my teacher Miss Barnes had a quiet word with me. “Why have you started drawing like Lynn?” she asked. I don’t remember what I said but I believe it was something in praise of how Lynn drew human figures. “Don’t,” she said briskly. “Draw your own way; be who you are. Your drawings are a lot better than hers.”

That’s the thing about that type of popularity: it changes how people do things, and most of the time we are unaware of it. We get suckered into an unconscious acceptance that if we do it THAT way, we’ll be in the popular camp. We’ll be besties with the most popular girl (or boy) and we’ll harvest all the benefits of that association. It is, of course, a big fat lie.

Recently my husband’s blog was nominated for a proper blog award, with award ceremony and all the trimmings. He was mildly pleased if puzzled. I voted for his blog (and yes, I did go and look at all the other nominations because I wasn’t just voting for him because he’s my husband) and I shared the call for votes once or twice. He was sent two tickets for the ceremony and gave them away because we were away at the time. Frankly, he wasn’t terribly interested. It meant very little to him. When we got back I had an email about the awards; he’d been named highly commended. I have no idea how the contest was run but usually with these things it’s about votes. So the blogs were judged not on their quality but on the number of people who had voted. I’ve seen plenty of this sort of thing for books, for book covers, authors etc and it seems to me that those who win are often those with the greatest ability to mobilise those around them to vote for them.

Being popular seems to create its own magnetic field, drawing in yet more acolytes. I’m not sure I’d ever want acolytes, to be honest, because there’s a cost to it. Time, energy, creative fizz all go into maintaining the persona that people are drawn to. That means less of all those things left to actually do something worthy of acclaim.

I don’t know what happened to Lynn. In our final year of junior school something went wrong between her parents and they split up, so she and her sisters moved away from the farm and left the area. I hope she became a cartoonist.

Mwah! Mwah! Kisses from a Moth and from me.

For the rest of November, as a special treat to lovers of spooky fiction, The Moth’s Kiss (ten tales of truth and consequences) is just 99p. That’s less than 10p per story. The price is equally low world-wide, so grab it as the nights draw in, darker and darker. I’d love to see some new reviews as well. (hint hint!)


For those of a nervous disposition, Strangers and Pilgrims has had a little price drop to comfort and cheer during the dark days before the Christmas lights go up.  It’s now just £1.99 (or whatever that converts to in $ etc). There are plenty of folks who have loved this book and reread regularly. I am working in a very roundabout way towards a sequel but that might take a few years; there are five other works-in-progress in various states of undress.


The Aurochs in the Mist

The aurochs in the mist (October 6th 2015)

It’s the print in the black mud,

So fresh it steams and bubbles,

Vast hoof-print holding water

Like a dark clay vessel cupping

The rain as it cascades off my hat,

That tells me I am not alone.

Further up the path, I smell him,

Rich, musky dung in shining heaps

More evidence of his passing,

Though the mist obscures the sight.

If I go forward, we will surely meet

And I, poor feeble human, will

Perhaps be mashed into the mud,

Trampled by razor-tipped hooves

Tossed on coat-rack horns

And discarded as easily as the bracken

That catches on those lethal spears.


Breath in clouds,

He emerges from the mist

A she, lesser in size,

Docile as her grand-sire

Was assuredly not,

Pauses at the sight of me

Standing in her path,

Tosses her head, not me,

Before turning back

And returning whence she came.

Special Offer in time for #Halloween and long autumn evenings

With 41 reviews (mostly 4 and 5 star with a couple of three stars) Away With The Fairies has hit the spot for a lot of readers.

In a bid to sway the waverers, it’s on special offer for the next week, first at 99p for three and a bit days, then going up to £1.99 for another three and a bit, before returning to its very reasonable original price of £2.65.

It’s the perfect book for this time of year; with Halloween coming up on Saturday, it’s the time when traditionally the veils thin between this world and the Otherworld, and we honour those who have gone before us.

If you haven’t read it yet, now’s the time to grab it. If you have already read it, I’d love to see the review count rise with more good reviews.




And as an added bonus, The Hedgeway (a chilling tale for Samhain) is just 99p worldwide (whatever that converts to in other currencies) until All Souls’ Day.


My Spirit Animal is a Duck-Billed Platypus

My Spirit Animal is a Duck-Billed Platypus

I’m a bit of a picker-upper of unconsidered trifles (I don’t mean the edible kind though I wouldn’t say no to a nice sherry trifle) and find myself sometimes buying odd bric-a-brac that has ended up on the shelves of charity shops, solely because it had a strange and rather special something about it. A kind of shine that might be familiar to players of computer games, where the magic potion, amulet or artefact lights up in some subtle way when you go near it.

That’s how I came to find my platypus. He was sitting amid the vases and candlesticks in a local charity shop and he was about 75p. That was a couple of years ago now and he’s sat in front of my computer monitor ever since. He’s a tiny china ornament about two or three inches long. I’ve never seen one like that before though I do own a platypus finger puppet my brother brought me back from Australia.

When specimens of duck-billed platypuses (or ought it platypi?) were first brought to Europe they were thought to be a taxidermist’s joke because they seemed so bizarre. They are beyond extraordinary: egg laying mammals which are semi-aquatic, capable of electro-location of their food in the water, and one of the very few mammals that are venomous (the males have spurs which can inflict painful “stings” on humans). Do read the Wiki article for more information on the natural history of this astounding beast: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platypus

Looking at them from a shamanistic perspective, their attributes are also extraordinary too:

Connection the ancient animals,

Ability to remain unique,

Value of remaining as you are,

Ability to rear young differently


The idea of them being a hoax comes down to the observation that they appear to be made up of the various component parts of other creatures: a bill like a duck, a tail like that of a beaver and so on. Each component fits a platypus to its environment, perfectly. They appear strange to us at first because they are unfamiliar and exotic, but once you have studied them a little, they become beautiful too (though they remain exotic and strange!).

I’ve thought about this for a while and realise that I resonate with the platypus. Leaving aside my own assemblage of skills, natural abilities and talents both inborn and learned, I realised that my writing is a kind of literary platypus. Nothing I have written fits neatly into the strict taxonomy of genre descriptions. This is both wonderful and maddening. People say, “You should fit to a genre,” and I discovered I can’t. Not won’t- can’t. I have tried a number of times and very quickly a story evolves, and morphs into another platypus-book.

Cross-genre literature actually appeals to a lot of people because it crosses boundaries and it carries more surprises than literature that sticks rigidly to the accepted parameters of a single genre. Away With The Fairies is a platypus of Women’s literary fiction/Paranormal/Spiritual/Mystery. Strangers and Pilgrims covers the same areas. Square Peg has a couple of limbs of Coming of Age to add to the mix. The Bet creeps into Anti-Romance (not a genre but I’d like it to be) as well as incorporating Psychological Literary Fiction. Even the short story collections, billed (duck or not) as horror or ghost stories are far from the classic genre of either.

Why does genre matter though? Why do I even try to classify my books in this way. Simple answer: visibility. In the vast ocean of available books, people understandably need to use some tools to track down the books they enjoy. Amazon has begun creating categories in their charting system that means that hybrids and platypus books have a chance of becoming visible on the never-ending shelves. So, for us creators of Weird but Wonderful cross-over books, there is hope that readers have a better chance of finding us and loving us.

I’ll end with a little snippet of cultural reference from Wiki:

The platypus has been featured in the Dreamtime stories of indigenous Australians, who believed the animal was a hybrid of a duck and a water rat.[83]:57–60 According to one story, the major animal groups, the land animals, water animals and birds, all competed for the platypus to join their respective groups, but the platypus ultimately decided to not join any of them, feeling that he did not need to be part of a group to be special.

I’m on the Pink Sofa ~ come and join me

Today I am being graciously hosted on the famed Pink Sofa of novelist and blogger Carol Hedges. Carol is the author of a series of Victorian “sensation” novels, which will appeal if you like detective stories set in Dickensian London. I’ve read and enjoyed the first in the series, and now there are two more to look forward to. You can find Carol’s books here  and my guest post is below, so do go over, have a read and comment too.


A Tale of Two Authors

Odd how things pop up, reminding you of things.

First there was this article from The Guardian, about Holloways, sunken lanes. Do take a peep at the pictures especially.  There’s more about the book mentioned here.

I’ve explored a lot of such places as a child and as an adult, they still fascinate me.



I’d like to tell you a story.
Once upon a time I was a bookish, somewhat geeky teenager with ambitions to become a writer who had her confidence and self-belief knocked back. I’d started writing very young and by ten had written my first novel. By fourteen, I’d written several more and I approached one of the English teachers at my school for feedback. Sometime later, he asked me to stay behind after school so we could talk about it. Needless to say, opening the discussion with the words, “How do you tell a mother that her baby is ugly,” wasn’t perhaps the best way, because for many years it was THOSE words rather than the much more constructive stuff that followed, which stayed with me. The rest of what he said was something that also stayed, but shoved away in a dark box somewhere in a corner of my mind, and I took it out and looked at it from time to time. I took comfort that he felt I was a born writer, but was troubled by the fact that he felt that my chosen genre at that time was not what he saw me writing. I loved detective fiction so that’s what I wrote. There’s some irony in the fact that the books published by J.K Rowling under the pen name Robert Galbraith are quite close to the plots I came up with as a teenager, writing about private detective agencies investigating weird and horrible crimes.
Anyway, some of his advice was to read and to read as widely as I could. This I did. A year or so after this, he organised a couple of visits to the school by authors of what might now be termed Young Adult fiction. I recall I met Nicholas Fisk and then John Gordon. For these events, we were asked to produce something to send to the authors. I really liked John Gordon and he spent half an hour with me after his talk (turns out I was the only kid who wrote anything for him!) and he gave me some very good encouragement and real kindness.
The story I wrote for him is lost, somewhere. It might be stuffed in one of the removals crates that I keep old MSS in, handwritten and fading. I don’t know. But when I moved house three years ago, a removal man dumped the contents of my desk drawers into boxes and I was obliged to sort it all out. And I found not that story but the one I wrote a year or two later, which was a kind of prequel to the tale I wrote for John Gordon. This one I had typed up on my old Brother portable and had sent it off to Woman’s Own when I was 21 and newly married. It earned me my very first rejection slip. Finding it again in my forties, possibly thirty years after I’d written it was odd, like a message in a bottle. The past is indeed a foreign country and they do do things differently there, but I found a whiff of who I once was and it heartened me. I could see I had a voice even then.
So two years ago, I took the elements of that story, plus what I could dredge up in my memory for the two other tales in that sequence, and I wrote another story. It came out as a longer short story or a short novella, and I published that a year ago.
It’s the tale of two authors: who I was and who I am.


PS. For a short time, it’s going to be a mere 99p or 99 cents, so grab it while it’s low.