The questions you can no longer ask

The questions you can no longer ask

(Content note for bereavement and poignancy)

When someone passes away, there’s a lot left behind for others to deal with. Paperwork that could sink the Titanic, funerals, dealing with personal effects and belongings. If you’ve been there, you know or can guess what it feels like. Some of it is baffling (“Why on earth did she keep that?” “What was he thinking?”) and you have to use your imagination to try and understand it. Some is obvious; we found a fabric art picture I did for my father when I was six. It hung on the wall of his office at work and when he retired, it came home and hung on the wall in his study. But sometimes you find things that make you wish you could ask questions. It’s not the big questions, because to be honest, I probably know the answers or could intuit them.

It’s the small things.

We found among my father’s papers a letter from one of the big TV channels. Taped to it was a small flint arrowhead. Dad had apparently sent it to them, so they could pass it on to Time Team, one of his favourite programmes, to find out more about it. The letter was polite and kind, but they couldn’t help and made some suggestions about how he could find out more about it.

The trouble is, I have no idea where he found the arrowhead. No idea at all. I have no memory of him finding it, or mentioning it. He probably did talk about it but amid the events of decades, stuff like that has a habit of vanishing utterly.

It’s a genuine arrowhead. My best guess (from size and type of working) is that it’s Mesolithic. But I can never now ask where he found it and I’ll never know, and weirdly, that hurts more than I would ever have imagined.

I’ve put the arrowhead on my personal altar and it’ll stay there. If I ever get a chance to speak to someone who’s an expert on such things, I’ll ask. But beyond that, I’ll never know its 20th century history.

On the Dominance of Filthy Lucre

On the Dominance of Filthy Lucre

You’ve undoubtedly heard the phrases, “Money makes the world go round,” and “The love of money is the root of all evil”. In recent months, it’s become apparent to me that both these aphorisms are becoming more and more the reality, and not only does it annoy me, it scares me.

I’m not sure when I first noticed that the suggested products on the mighty ‘Zon were being steadily replaced by sponsored ads, but I really noticed it when my new book got its own page. Most authors have a look at what their books are paired with, and since I’d chosen (possibly naively) to list Méchant Loup: Modern Fables for Sensible Grown-ups https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1091667012/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i0

under the genre fairy tales, I saw that beneath the listing were literally dozens and dozens of sponsored ads, supposedly for products related to my book. When it first came out, the sponsored ads beneath my book seemed to be retold fairy tales by only a couple of authors; books that had either just been released or were on pre-order. I glanced at them out of curiosity but none appealed to me. Méchant Loup isn’t a collection of retold fairy tales or even reimagined ones (with one exception of the title story), and given it’s intended for “sensible grown ups”, some of the sponsored ads were way off mark. Most of them if truth be told. I’d hoped that I might gain some traction in this category but I’d have been better listing in literary fiction. Or perhaps not.

The trouble is not just as an author. As a reader, I do glance at the suggested books under the listings of books I have enjoyed. But now it seems that the complex mathematical equations needed to predict what someone might like have gone terribly awry, directly as a result of the proliferation of paid ads. I suspect that few authors don’t now use paid advertising; from what I have heard through the jungle drums, it’s with diminishing returns. Some authors do not recoup from sales what they spent on advertising. I’ve yet to do a poll, but my gut feeling is that the general trend is spending more and more on advertising and get less and less back.

Being a writer is becoming ever more a mug’s game. The ones (like me) who are creating the content (what a hideous phrase) are not the ones garnering any real monetary rewards for the work. Worse still, it’s becoming horrifyingly common to discover that author mills are churning out books, often scraped illegally from the works of others, altered enough to pass the checks needed to be published, and published en masse, with paid reviews convincing enough to lure in more buyers.

Can you hear me sighing heavily?

It might have been the collective sighs of all of us demoralised writers that created Storm Ciara.

Everyone who can grab a piece of us is doing so. Every day I read of other writers who are being forced to give up doing what they love because they can no longer afford to do it. Don’t get me started on the continuing phenomenon of pirating books. One friend has done something I admire immensely, and has backed away from commercial publishing, and is producing limited edition, hand-bound books, available from her directly.

https://kathysharp2013.wordpress.com/2019/04/11/adventures-in-bookbinding-the-herbarium/

It satisfies the soul, and evades the risk of having your work scraped, pirated or plagiarised. I lack the skills to do so, but hats off to her.

The new book has been out a month and has now 7 fabulous reviews, but the initial burst of sales is dwindling, and I fear that before too long it will, along with all my other books that I cannot pay to advertise and will not even had I the money (because it’s clear authors are the cash cow of various industries), languish with only occasional readers.

I don’t have any answers. I try to pass on news about the books of others when I can, and appreciate those who have done that for me. We live in a world where filthy lucre is the only thing that seems to matter to the vast majority of the population; it makes me more and more want to retreat from it all, and not participate in this orgy of capitalistic nihilism.

The incredible power of myths and fairy-tales

The incredible power of myths and fairy-tales

One of the highlights of last year (which was a truly awful year in most respects) was having the chance to go on a workshop with Caitlín Matthews http://www.hallowquest.org.uk/ Held at Woodbrooke, the Quaker study centre in Birmingham https://www.woodbrooke.org.uk/ , “The Paths to the Grail” remains an island of calm, learning, fellowship and a deep sense of the numinous, and a shining, beautiful couple of days of my life. A true oasis, if you like. I had wanted to go on one of her courses before, but never so much as this one. In the hell of all the horrible, sad events, this gave me respite.  Continue reading

A Living Nightmare of a Decade?

A Living Nightmare of a Decade?

There’s been a thing going round. One of those things. Posting a picture from ten years ago and one from this year, to illustrate the changes in a decade. Another thing has been to list your achievements in the last decade. Both have made me shudder. I couldn’t find a picture of me from 2009 that I wanted to share and when I have compared to now, it’s clear the decade has aged me. But ten years ages everyone, so no surprises there.

Continue reading

It never rains but…

It never rains but…

You know the saying, and others like “troubles never come singly”. It seems to be true. The last blog post I wrote, I said I was very close to releasing a new book. I still remain very close but the chances of getting the final tasks done any time soon are fairly small.

April was a cruel, hard month. First one family crisis came along, and dealing with that left me so depleted, I came down with shingles. That’s not fun, I can tell you. Then, just as we thought we’d got the situation under control, I got complications with said shingles. More pain, more anxiety, more feeling like death warmed up. Then a further family crisis happened. That’s combined with everything else and I have a full-on flare of the EDS/JHS. The pain is excruciating and I am so, so tired.

Shingles alone is nasty enough. The risk, post shingles, of heart attack and stroke, rises by around 40%. Being post-menopausal, my protection against those catastrophes, afforded by a functioning set of ovaries, is gone. If I push myself, I put myself at greater risk of serious consequences. I’ve had some extra blood tests to rule out various other things but the musculo-skeletal issues are draining me of all energy anyway.

And the other question is this: is the world in a hurry for yet another book, to add to the millions of others out there? Short answer: no. While I know that many are looking forward to a new book from me, I also know that nobody is wanting me to put my health at risk to get it. I know my books make a difference to lives and that makes me content that it’s worth writing and publishing in a world that is largely dominated by capitalist models that I despise and abhor, because what I write fills a valuable niche, however small (in capitalist terms, read that as unsuccessful financially).

So, enjoy the May-time flowers and if you have good vibes or prayers to spare for me and mine, they would be gratefully received.