Thursday, 8 November 2018

Not ANOTHER flaming blog about BREXIT?

'Oh what a circus, what a show'
Sometimes, you have to 'take one for the team'. Thus, on October 14th, one brave Remainer, David Chalmers manfully donned his incognito anorak and went along to see what the other side was up to. This is his verdict.


"Yesterday afternoon I attended the "Brexit Roadshow" in Torquay. I had reservations about donating £5 to a cause that I obviously don't support and guess I could have watched the event online, but I wanted to get a feel of the atmosphere first hand. I am glad I did. The event was supposed to be sold out, and to be fair, once I was in the hall I only saw the occasional spare seat. The only person I saw under 40 was the man in his twenties, who took my money on the door.

That was the first thing that struck me - the lack of any young people in the audience and that I was probably amongst the youngest in the hall. The hall contained approx 1,500 grey haired men and women - mostly in their 60s and 70s - with far more people in their 80s and 90s than in their 20s and 30s. These are the people, taking it upon themselves to demand the right to decide the fate and future of the rest of the country. It was quite shocking, and I reckon that were the cameras to have panned the audience it would brought home to the rest of the country just what is going on here. An older generation trying to take the country back to some fantasy land of their childhood with no desire to look at reality or to accept the future.
What does this remind you of? (clue >>)














Tim Martin of Wetherspoons, Farage and Rees Mogg were the main speakers, but before I comment on their individual speeches, what was apparent was that no-one was going to give any real facts. All speakers reverted to simple statements with no explanation or detail. We have heard - "take back control, take back our fisheries, make Britain great again etc" all before, but their was no attempt to deal with all the challenges that the reality of Brexit has thrown up. In fact when they did address those issues they chose to trivialise them. Martin actually claiming that the trade across the Irish Border was small and trivial, to be easily sorted. Rees-Mogg joking that a NO Deal would mean a rise in the cost of caviar and that a few lorries might get delayed for a short time at Dover

This was an audience that really believes that life will be better on our own, because they have no understanding of how the world works in 21st Century - and neither do they want to know. There is an obvious mistrust and dislike of Europe and all things European, in contrast to the cheers when the Commonwealth was mentioned. But that does raise the question of what parts of the Commonwealth ? - bearing in mind that I saw not one non white face in the hall.

That Tim Martin , a man who runs a chain of pubs. puts himself forward as the spokesperson for British business would be laughable, but these are not times to laugh, and the people listening to him didn't seem to care. He talked of switching to non European products being served in his bars, as if this would solve all the problems Brexit poses for British companies. He even called for a general boycott of EU products and talked about upholding democracy. The best thing anyone wishing to defend the democracy of our country could do, would be to send him a message he would understand, do as I have done for the past two years and not set foot in one of his establishments.

Farage is ever the showman and he knows how to play an audience. His jokes about Theresa May did cause great laughter, but I was surprised that Rees Mogg - although not on the stage at the time - was prepared to come on after the harsh criticism of his party leader.

Farage wants to revive "The People's Army " and called on everyone in the hall to write and go to see their MP - whose contact details were on a sheet on everyone's chairs. They hate Sara Woolaston and they hate the Chequers Deal and regard Theresa May as betraying the result of the Referendum. They just want to Leave the EU - and don't want to hear what this might mean in reality. To them they have achieved this wonderful thing, which they have all been striving for, for the past twenty years and don't want another Referendum - the people have spoken - now the politicians have to just get on with the job and make Brexit happen.
Unfortunate facial shadowing
It's going to be interesting to see how many respond to Farage's call for them to get back out on the streets and resurrect the fight of two years ago. Are they up for it? There is nothing new in their arguments of two years ago - quite the contrary they are actually offering less of a vision. Farage's hint that this fight might go on longer than the next few weeks suggests that he is preparing to fight another Referendum.

When Farage suggested that the Remain side were the aggressive ones - I wanted at that point to shout out - "Remember Jo Cox" and recall the number of times two years ago that I had a fist put up to my face.

After Farage, Rees Mogg was quite a come down and his speech was much more subdued. His job was to tell the audience that Brexit was really a very simple thing to do and that it was being prevented from happening because his colleagues in Government were not really in to the task. A NO Deal scenario would not cause any long term problems. Obviously !!

So there you have it . The message is one of betrayal - as on the side of the bus - and they just want Leave and don't believe or want to know what this could mean for our country. I felt people were there for the entertainment and nostalgia as much as anything else. Not once were young people mentioned - there was no talk of opportunity, or the future. It felt like a mixture of attending a meeting of the flat earth society and the revival tour of a fading rock star. What we need to do is expose them to the rest of the country and put forward our vision for its future. We have to win this!" ....

We Will Remember Them: Armistice 100


No shelter from the kniving wind
No solace from the driving snow.
No warmth, no comfort or bright cheer
In heav'n above or earth below

from 'Trench Winter. November 1916' by Noel Clark 

If you're following me on Twitter, you'll know that this comes from my YA novel Jigsaw Pieces . Noel Clark is a character from the book and his short life as a soldier poet in the first world war makes up one of the story strands. In a few days, we will mark a hundred years since the outbreak of that so called 'War to End all Wars', and there must be very few UK people who don't have some link back to the 1914-18 conflict. My link to the 'war to end all wars' comes via my late father-in-law, the wonderfully named Herbert Inkerman Hedges.

My father-in-law was the youngest of twelve brothers. The eleven older ones joined the East Riding of Yorkshire Regiment and marched away to fight the Hun. They were all killed at the Battle of the Somme. He recalls his parents telling him how the telegrams kept coming, day after day, until the news of the last son's death was delivered.

I'm always intrigued by the way wars throw up poets. It's not just World War One, though that cohort are probably the best known. Poetry was also being written during World War Two, on both sides, in the Iraq War and is still being produced in Afghanistan today. I think the proliferation of soldier poets during times of conflict is directly related to the situation they find themselves in.

Poetry demands an inner ordering, a precise selection of vocabulary and structure - it's the verbal equivalent of piecing together a complex jigsaw - the picture only emerges when all the pieces are correctly placed. The control needed to make a poem is in direct contrast to the chaos that soldiers live in daily. Poetry is a way of containing their world and making sense of the senseless. It is therefore both therapy, and a psychological outlet for feelings and emotions too horrific to be dealt with in 'normal' prose.

Those who have read Jigsaw Pieces know the story of Noel Clark an imaginary World War One poet who died tragically at the age of nineteen, is closely linked to another soldier from that time: Billy Donne. What you do not know is that Billy was an actual person. I came across him quite by accident in a small article in the Times in 1997. It was headlined 'A happy 100th for man with mysterious past'. I used his story almost to the letter: Billy Dunne (the correct spelling of his surname) couldn't speak, and drew pictures of battlefields, just like his fictional counterpart. He was placed in a mental hospital in 1923 for unknown reasons, and no family had ever claimed him. His story touched me so much that I felt I had to write about him. The link with Noel Clark is where fact and fiction elide.

During the upcoming commemorations for the remembrance of World War One, we shall no doubt re-read many times the 'big' soldier poets: Owen, Sassoon and Brooke. But actually I find just as much pity and pathos in the work of the women poets of that time, who did not share in the fighting at the Front, but shared in the suffering, and the changed lives. It is their sense of loss, their attempt to learn to survive survival, that makes their verse so poignant. One of the best is Margaret Postgate Cole.

This is her poem Praematuri:
When men are old, and their friends die 
They are not sad,
Because their love is running slow, 
And cannot spring from the wound with so sharp a pain;
And they are happy with many memories,
And only a little while to be alone.

But we are young, and our friends are dead
Suddenly, and our quick love is torn in two;
So our memories are only hopes that came to nothing.
We are left alone like old men; we should be dead
- But there are years and years in which we shall still be young.


Thursday, 11 October 2018

The Kindness of Strangers or How I got Run Over While Thinking about #Brexit

Being a razorblade in the parliamentary candyfloss

There comes a time in the life of every Grumpy Old Sod when mortality turns up and smacks you in the face. It happened to this GOS last Thursday (11th October). I'd returned from protesting with fellow anti-Brexit campaigners outside Parliament (see pic). I decided to reward myself for my verbal prowess with some cider.

The supermarket, which shall be nameless coz I refuse to do product placement was on the other side of the road from the bus stop. I looked left. No traffic. The road was clear. I looked right ~ there was enough road between me and the oncoming queue of rush-hour cars to launch a bid for the opposite pavement, where the cider lived. I stepped into the road.

I remember the BANG.

Next thing I was lying in the road, with cars screeching to a halt all round me. They say just before you die in an accident, your whole life flashes in front of you. Mine didn't, so I decided I was going to survive. I had a go at levering myself off the road, dimly aware that all around me in the vertical world, people were on their phones, holding urgent conversations.

Which is where the kindness kicked in. A nurse (she'd phoned the ambulance) and a first responder (who'd phoned the police) happened be passing and had stopped to help. Having ascertained that nothing major was broken, I was gently lifted off the road and propped against a wall. The driver of the car that hit me appeared. It was an electric car. I hadn't heard it coming. We both apologised to each other.

A PCSO in a van arrived. I was placed inside to await developments. It was decided not lock me in the small back compartment where the naughty people go. The driver and I continued apologising to each other. While we waited for the 'official' police to arrive to take our statements, I enlightened him about Brexit, a topic he hadn't thought about much, though his dad was against it. He decided he agreed with his dad and me. Result!

The police came, blue-lighting merrily. We both made statements. It was suggested I should go to hospital to have the bump on my head and other bits checked. I declined. Having watched '24 Hours in A&E', I knew how the script played: you are brought in on a stretcher; you lie around for hours waiting to be seen; you lie around some more waiting to be X-rayed; you lie around even longer until they get the results; you are told nothing major has happened and are sent home with painkillers.

I decided to cut out the middle section and go for the 'home with painkillers' bit. The kind PCSO drove me back in his police van. I do not know what the neighbours thought. I am not sure what I think either. Maybe it is a warning not to let Brexit take over my life. Maybe a sign that I am slowly going, to use the technical jargon, completely gaga. But at least I am here. Though sadly, still without any cider.


Monday, 8 October 2018

Library Louts!


I first posted this blog a couple of years ago because I was so angry at the closures of public libraries, in particular several branch libraries in the London Borough of Brent, where I started my career. Now that this vile government has cut local government grant cuts to the bone and beyond, leading to more closures, I am still angry.

My first encounter with books was via the local library in Welwyn Garden City, my home town. Dumped in the children's library, age 4, I selected a book from the box (in those days all picture books had the same plain library covers). I opened it up and there was Orlando, the Marmalade Cat, his Dear Wife Grace and their three kittens, Pansy, Blanche and mischievous Tinkle.

Apart from starting my well known love of cats, it also started me on the path to reading, which led me, in time, to become a writer. My parents did not consider buying books for young children as a necessity, as many parents for a variety of reasons, still don't. Without the books I borrowed each week, my life would have been impoverished.

As I said at the outset, I started off my library career in the 1970's working for Brent Libraries, and knew all the six libraries that have been shut very well. Many served poor, ethnically diverse communities and were used by people who could not afford to buy books for themselves, or for their children. The staff were treated with the utmost respect by locals, who valued what we offered and what we represented. I vividly recall being beckoned to the front of a long queue in the local Caribbean greengrocer - the owner succinctly informing the rest of the line that: 'this is the Liberian lady - she got to get back to work!'

Here in Hertfordshire, our libraries have recently been 're-structured to meet the needs of the modern user'. As far as I can see, this means they shut at odd times, just when you want to borrow a pile of books, and far too much space is now given over to desks of computers, at which people sit and dicker all day. Mainly playing mindless games. Books? Nah, don't need them. Got to move with the times. Books are relegated to fewer and fewer shelves.

I find it hard to put into words how upset I was at the disclosure that Kensal Rise library had all its books carted off in the middle of the night by Brent Council workers. The furtive and underhand way in which this wicked deed - sorry, I find no other words to express it - took place, resonates with all those other occasions in the past when the banning, or burning of books has marked a civilization in crisis, or steep decline.

The playwright and novelist Michael Frayn has commented of the closure of Brent's Kensal Rise library:
        ''They took the books out and the plaque down? So the library is now an unlibrary, in the way that people became unpersons in the darkest days of the Soviet Union. I hope they took the titles of the books off as well. Removing unbooks from an unlibrary - who could possibly object?''



I do.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Cover Me!


They always say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but that never stopped anyone.

I have received both praise and 'stick' for my covers. Interestingly, the praise has always come from readers, who appreciate the nuanced designs, with their nod to original Victorian covers. This is deliberate ~ if you read the novels, they are not just fast-paced detective stories, but a 'homage' to the style of novels of that period, which I frequently reference as I go.

The 'stick' has come from various publishers who've approached me to ask if I'd consider letting them take the series over ON CONDITION that they changed the covers.

Original early Victorian book covers

The fact that you are looking at the new cover for Fear & Phantoms (recently published via Amazon in both book and ebook formats) gives you an indication of my response. Thanks but no thanks. My covers are designed by designer and friend Gina Dickinson, thus adding an extra personal dimension to them. They also have background pictures supplied by photographer friends I follow on Twitter. They are now published under the Little G imprint (my own). They are special and it is a joy to share them with you.

It always amuses me, when scrolling through Twitter, to pick out the 'I bought an off-the peg cover' books. It's so easy to do. Frequently you see the same muscled bloke or shapely young lady with accompanying pout in different settings, and wearing different clothes depending upon the genre. There seems to be a smallish pool of cover models out there. And although many of the cover suppliers SAY they do not re-use a design once you have bought and paid for it ~ they do. Believe me. Seen it with my own eyes, Guv.

So I shall continue to have my own bespoke covers, using Rosewolf Designs and referencing Victorian ideas and scenes until I run out of ideas. And if you are interested, here's the blurb for the new book:

"When a young man's body is discovered buried deep beneath the winter snow, Detectives Stride and Cully little realise where the discovery will take them. Is his murder a random, one-off event, or could the death be linked to the mysteriously elusive individual who has already brought down one of the City's long-standing private banks?

Mishap, misunderstanding and mystery dog their footsteps as the Scotland Yard detectives find themselves in very murky territory indeed, at times struggling to keep their heads above water in the umbrous underworld of murder and financial fraud. Can they unmask the dark brutal mastermind lurking at the centre of it all, before he strikes again?

A taut, gripping historical crime novel that lays bare the dubious practices of the Victorian banking businesses and entices the reader into the shady world of high-class gambling houses, where fortunes can be made or lost on the luck of the cards.
In the great tradition of Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, this sharp witty series of detective novels brings back to life the murky gas-lit world of Victorian London."


So that's my cover philosophy. That's how I roll. How about you ~ what makes a 'good' book cover? And can you really judge a book by it?



Monday, 3 September 2018

The PINK SOFA meets Writer and Farmer, Diana Ashworth



Many years ago, in 1961, I was sitting, age 11, on the floor of the Assembly Hall of Hatfield Girls' Grammar School. My navy blazer was itchy, my navy pleated skirt was too long and my socks kept subsiding. Sitting in the same row was a small blonde girl with a cheeky smile. I asked her whether she'd be my friend. Diana Buck ( as she was then) and I have travelled many different paths over the succeeding years. And now we are here. I have a new book out. Diana has a new book out, and THE PINK SOFA is agog and beside itself with curiosity. 

It’s a miracle!
Diana's new book www.logastonpress.co.uk

I can take it that you are all readers but I bet you take reading for granted. The process of reading is absolute magic – It’s a miracle! When you think about it – when you read someone’s sentence you are running their thoughts through your brain – through your neurones. Forget Sex – reading what someone else has written is a much more intimate act – You are sharing their very thoughts, memories and ideas (it’s all a bit more sophisticated than bodily fluids).

I’ve come to writing via a circuitous route – Carol will tell you that sitting behind me at school could be a painful and embarrassing experience if ever I was called upon to read aloud. Dyslexia hadn’t been invented (well, it wasn’t recognised) but it didn’t hold me back – just limited my choices a bit. 

I was a family doctor for 35 years.  I spent a lot of that time trying to work people out and trying to explain things in parables.  My first partner, Tom (the best doctor I have ever met) said ‘Never try to explain anything in abstract terms (especially not to men) always find a solid metaphor!’  He wasn’t sexist for his time – this was 40 years ago!
I also studied neuroscience – I think of personality as being the stuff of ideas hung on some sort of genetic matrix, like washing on a line or a clothes horse.   The washing is the memory of all those seminal events that have shaped us and the line is our personal wiring (my own wiring is not very quick when it comes to interpreting symbols).
 Some people think in a straight line, and hang their thoughts, their memories and their experiences out like that, on a line – and some of us don’t.

When we go to sleep we take the memories down, off the line, smooth them out, fold them up and put them away – to be retrieved as necessary (sometimes a little shrunk and sometimes stained by a stray red sock!)  That’s how psycho-analysis works – a process of folding up and putting away so that some great metaphorical purple duvet-cover doesn’t get in the way for the rest of your life.

When you run a writer’s thoughts through your neurones (when you read their book) you can tell how they think and how they process their thoughts, what sort of line they have – some have rotary driers with recurring themes – the yellow cardy of childhood abuse that is difficult to dry and comes round and round. An increasing number of literary prize-winners seem to put their thoughts into a tumble drier -- when they come out they are knotted and inside out, intertwined with other ideas.

Hemingway thought in a straight line without even the diversion of an occasional adjective. D H Lawrence wrote a knotted string, each paragraph a half hitch on a linear narrative giving a distinct rhythm. Others write in great arching hoops like a coiled hose pipe (Virginia Woolf). Me, in my head I have a three dimensional pictorial map of my world, and I hang my experiences on the low branches of trees, on gorse bushes (like a gipsy), on the backs of chairs, I hang them over gates -- sometimes the wind catches them and they soar into the air for a moment swirling and flapping and then splash down into the mud to be trampled by all the animals in my world. 

This sort of memory seems to give what I write what people call a strong sense of place. If I visit the town where I practiced medicine for years and I drive through its streets I am almost overwhelmed by the recall of events attached to almost everything I see – every road, almost every house has some burden of memory – a death here, a rape there, the drug addict with the flick knife that was faulty (thankfully) living up those steps.

Ten years ago after a series of seemingly random co-incidences we, that’s Alan (my husband), myself and Pedro (our newly acquired and wayward dog) bought a derelict farm in Mid-Wales with 25 acres.  We hadn’t intended to move, we had no connections to Wales and we had never had any desire to practice extreme farming -- something about the place just ensnared us.

‘They’ll do! They’re are the ones I want’, said the old farmhouse, probably in Welsh, and the couple, (the ones the old place wanted) were drawn into the life of the place – inspired by its beauty, its creatures, its moods and its stories.

I was telling a friend about all the delights, the strange differences we noticed in this new environment and the adventures that we were having -- she asked me to write a light-hearted diary column for the magazine she edits (only three issues a year) and that is how it all began.  A door that closed decades ago had reopened! 

Once she had tried to edit my first submission she must have had second thoughts because she encouraged me to go to Uni and do an MA in creative writing. This I did and it was very therapeutic, as was the Penguin Guide to Punctuation which is considerably cheaper!  After more than 20 episodes she suggested I send the collected manuscripts to a publisher she knew who occasionally sent the magazine review copies.   This I did too…  My book is now out.   

I apologise if this makes it sound easy – it wasn’t – it isn’t.  I read avidly (still slowly but retentively) and consume audiobooks and I re-read and endlessly correct my own work and…  I have been extremely lucky.  But, gosh, it’s satisfying!

Iolo’s Revenge, Sheep Farming by Happy Accident in Mid-Wales by Diana Ashworth is published by Logaston Press (www.logastonpress.co.uk)




Monday, 20 August 2018

I'm a self-published writer. So what?

New book cover (book/ebook publ.September)

Scrolling through Facebook the other day, as you do when you are supposed to be working, I came across a blog post written by an 'anonymous' independent bookshop owner, in which they listed all the reasons why neither they, nor any of their profession would contemplate stocking self-published/indie books.

Their argument was that far too many self-published writers produce amateur and inferior books, and then have the cool arrogance to think, my God, that they is going to place their shabbily presented and badly-written volumes on hallowed bookshop shelves! Quel horreur! (They made an exception for non-fiction books, which apparently were produced to a higher standard).

The attitude whereby self-published/indie books are viewed by suppliers and bookshops as inferior, needs challenging. Contrary to anonymous' assertions of amateurism, many of us employ professional editors and proofreaders to check our manuscripts. We also shell out for bespoke covers (see above), working for weeks with designers, to produce the very best and most eye-catching ones that we can. You may well find the odd typo in our work, but hey, I have found them in many a mainstream-published book too, (certainly in my own books, when I was published by a 'big name'). I've also seen some pretty naff covers too, assembled from Adobe Stock rather than designed.

Now, I could, as a 'publisher' try to kick down the door, and get The Victorian Detectives into my local Waterstones, or one of the independent bookshops in the area, but frankly, m'dear, I can no longer be bothered. Waterstones' latest policy means that all books like mine have to be submitted to their HQ for approval, and I refuse to be treated like some kid who is handing in homework to be marked.

Even if I got an A on said homework, there is still the 'discount' hurdle to overcome. Bookshops expect publishers to offer them a 45% discount. It covers premises, overheads, staff etc etc. Fair enough. Large publishers can do this, taking a hit on some writers, while making big profits on novels by celeb writers, or hyped unknowns whose readability often seems in reverse ratio to their publicity. Subtract the discount from what a writer is paid in royalties, and factor in the sale or return policy most shops operate, and the faff of the paperwork, you end up with so little for your time and effort that it seriously isn't worth it.

Therefore, until anonymous independent book shop owner changes their mindset, and others their methodology, I am going to stay exactly where I am, mistress of my own little book and ebook empire, and enjoy the company of hundreds of other self-published writers, whose books are as professional, as well-written, and just as worth reading as any that you will find piled high in your local bookshop. What's not to like?

So what is your opinion? Are bookshop stocked writers 'better'? Have you struggled to get your books into local shops? Please share your views and experiences ....




Monday, 30 July 2018

Are You A Serial Offender? I Am.



As you probably all know, Diamonds & Dust, which was rejected out of hand by my former agent as ''not remotely publishable'' and subsequently went on not only to be published, but was listed for the CWA Historical Dagger, the Walter Scott Prize, the Folio Society Prize, and scored 110 + reviews on Amazon, is now developing offspring.

It wasn't meant to. Seriously. I didn't envisage trotting out the two Victorian detectives Stride and Cully again. But like lily pond paintings by Monet and Haydn String Quartets, once started, it seemed logical to keep going.

Thus the sequel Honour & Obey, which was published November 2014, Death & Dominion which came out in October 2015. Rack & Ruin (Sept 2016) was the fourth outing for Stride & Cully, Wonders & Wickedness (Sept 2017) was the fifth, and I am currently putting the final touches to a sixth book: Fear & Phantoms, which should be ready to read this September (see below for sneak peek of new cover)

There are those writers who regard a series as a bit of a ''cop-out''; after all, you've got your characters already written for you. To them I would say: writing a series is MUCH harder than producing a one-off text. And I know what I'm talking about: this is my second series of books. (The Spy Girl series for Usborne was the first)

The main problem is that unless you started with the idea of writing a series, and few authors do, they just tend to evolve, you are stuck with whatever you wrote in the first one. You cannot radically alter the appearance nor personality of the main character/s without readers going ''What the ...?'' After all, it was how they were in book one that will keep them reading books 2, 3, 4, 5 etc. You can and must develop the main characters, but in essence, they have to bear some resemblance to how they were in the beginning.

Then there is the problem of keeping the plot momentum going. I find book 2 is usually the easiest, as it seems to evolve naturally out of the first one. Book 3, however, is far more problematic. New areas have to be introduced to keep the reader interested. Some fundamental shifting of perspective must take place, or else book 3 becomes merely a watered down version of the previous two. Actually, book 3 is usually the pivotal one upon which the rest of the series rests. If you cannot pull it off successfully, it is best to admit defeat and pretend you only meant to write two in the first place.

By book 4, the pitfall is over-confidence. You have run the gauntlet of three books. You feel the surge of expertise as fingers hit keyboard. This, after the previous three, will be a doddle to write. You have your characters, you know how the story arc works. Sometimes this attitude pays off: I still think Dead Man Talking, the fourth Spy Girl book, is the best plotted. However, beware: book 4 can so easily wander off into alien territory, or become a repetition of book 3 with added lacklustre.

By the time you reach book 5, you can say with confidence that you have planted your flag upon the summit of Series Mountain. Whether your trajectory goes up or down is now up for debate. I can say from avidly reading crime series, that some writers manage to sustain plot, characters and reader interest beyond book 5, but many more don't and the result is a series of  flat read-alike stories with little variety at best, or downright daftness at worst, (bounty hunter Stephanie Plum's hamster has survived longer than any hamster should or ought!)

The trouble with series is that publishers LOVE them. They are easy to market, and each book sells on the back of the previous ones. Thus the temptation to go on churning them out year after year, when by rights the whole thing should have been allowed to quietly slink off and hide in a dark corner after the fifth one.

I have been told though, that the ''real money'' comes from a 5 book series, which means most other writers will have been told this too. Mind, I never thought I'd get as far as a third or fourth. My former agent didn't see any mileage in the first ... and here I am already tentatively starting a seventh.

So what's your experience: Do you prefer to read a series? Or a one off novel. If you are a writer, have you ever tackled a series, or does the prospect fill you with horror? Do share your thoughts .... 

Cover c/o Gina Dickerson (Rosewolf Design)


Wednesday, 27 June 2018

10 Top Tips for Writers



1. If possible, write on something that is NOT connected to the internet. That way you aren't tempted to check Facebook/Twitter every 5 minutes. Or less.

2. If you are writing on an internet-free laptop, make sure it isn't in the same room as the internet connected one (see 1).

3. If you can't accomplish 1 and 2 for physical/financial reasons, try to allocate yourself specific times of the day to Tweet/update your Facebook. Do not weaken.

4. Unless specific, dickering about on Google is not 'research'.

5. Checking your Amazon rating and sales figures every two days is liable to lead to suicidal feelings. Ditto reading posts from other writers who do this.

6. Ditto reading the 'I wrote a whole novel today - go me!' claims on social media

7. There is no such thing as 'Writer's Block', it is just a posh excuse for not writing.

8. The only way to write a book is to write a book.

9. If you are not constantly awash with doubt/fear/insecurity/self-loathing/envy/anxiety/panic, you probably aren't a writer.

10. Follow your dreams by all means. But make sure you have a day job.


Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Why Is My Laptop Bullying Me?



About a year ago, my elderly and much loved eMac died on me. There was no warning. I woke up one morning, switched it on and nothing happened. It went on not happening for several days during which I attempted to extract stuff I hadn't backed up (DON'T TELL ME!!!). It went on not happening even when Computer Expert Husband of Friend came round and performed the equivalent of CPR on it.

Eventually I had to face reality: the computer had died, taking with it 26 thousand words of the new book into some internet black hole. There was nothing I could do. There followed a short period of mourning. I missed my computer. I missed waking up to its elegant presence on the desk. I missed the response time that was so slow, it was quicker to walk. I missed the way it let me get on with the writing without bothering about silly things like punctuation or misspelled words. I missed seeing Thermidor, my red beanbag lobster glowering at me from the top.


The desk wasn't the same. My writing wasn't the same. And I was now 26 thousand words down with a 9 month deadline looming. Enter a small purple Acer laptop. And with its arrival, my literary life has moved to a new dimension. Not, alas, for the better. The original idea was to use the laptop purely as a writing tool, like its former incarnation. Therefore it was deliberately not connected to the internet. Not that it could ever be connected to the internet, as there is no internet cable in the Writing Attic. But by some devious process of its own, the laptop has managed to locate some internet. And it doesn't like being separated from it.



Thus every time I switch it on, it messages me. Usually to inform me that I am not connected to the internet. It refuses to accept that it is in 'flight mode' and has developed a strategy whereby it locks access to my files every few months until I reconnect it to the mothership downstairs. It also dislikes the sloppy way I write, snarkily underlining stuff in red wiggly lines, and tutting to itself (OK, maybe I am fantasizing, but it FEELS like tutting).

I do not recall Charles Dickens having stand~up rows with his quill pen. I find no references to Wilkie Collins threatening to throw his writing apparatus out of the window. Last week, the ultimate happened: the laptop wouldn't let me save a chunk of the new book because 'someone else is working on the file'. Whaaaat? The cat has been questioned, but denies being the secret ghost writer. I can only conclude that the laptop has decided to produce its own version of the book, as I am clearly inadequate.

This blog post is being written downstairs on the office desktop, which is connected to the internet. I am assuming by the time I return to the Writing Attic after posting it, that the small purple Acer will have read it. I expect it will immediately start working on its revenge. Is this what they mean by the rise of artificial intelligence? Send help ~my laptop is bullying me!




Thursday, 10 May 2018

A Bad Case of Mobile Madness


As many of you know, I have a tenuous relationship with technology. Actually, my level of competence is so low, you couldn't limbo under it. And so, at the back end of last year, the Other Grumpy Old Sod persuaded me to buy a Doro mobile, on the basis that it was advertised as ideal for the elderly and mentally incontinent, thus rendering it eminently suitable to my requirements.

The suggestion was made on the back of my previous three mobiles going wrong (the most technical I get upon these matters), plus the fact that every time I used his iPhone, a conversation ensued containing the phrase: 'Now what have you done?' And for a few months, it was good. Very good. And then last Bank Holiday Monday, I lost it at the garden centre.

In my defence, I was minding the 2 yr old and 4 yr old at the time while their mother was somewhere else buying plants, and before you roll your eyes, your options are extremely limited if you are standing in a pay-queue with a loaded tray and the grandchildren suddenly decided to re-enact The Great Escape. Unless you have taken the pre-precaution of tying them to you with strong cord. Which I had failed to do.

In the ensuing fracas, my mobile must've dropped out of my bag. It took me 24 hours to realise it was missing. A further day was spent scouring the house/daughter's house and car. I then used the landline to ring back places I'd visited, and lo! second call elicited the joyous news that the mobile had been handed in at the garden centre and it was in their safe. Safe.

You really want this to now end with 'and they all lived happily ever after', don't you? Sadly not. Between the loss of the phone and its subsequent return, something had happened to the relationship between it and the charger, which refused point blank to charge it. Thus, armed with charger and phone, I sallied forth to the EE phone shop once more, and explained to the 12 year old behind the counter that I had suffered another #phonefail.

After testing both items, it proved to be the charger that was at fault. Which didn't entirely surprise me, as it is plugged in by the gas hob and might, possibly, have got closer to a lit gas ring that it should've. The 12 year old then looked thoughtful, did some lip-pursing, and frowning, and told me that if I wanted to save £7, it would be actually cheaper to buy the rock bottom 'I wouldn't give a phone like that to my cat' mobile, as the charger that came with it was compatible with my phone.

So that is the reason why I am currently the possessor of two mobile phones, upping, at a stroke, my potential for #phonefail by 100%!  OK, in theory, I am in a better position, as I have a fallback phone. But don't hold your breath, is all I can advise.




Sunday, 8 April 2018

Of Mice and Moan


Every now and then Hedges Towers is invaded by mice. They come in from the cold, like in a John le Carre novel. Unlike in a John le Carre novel, they then find themselves face to face with a small tortoiseshell cat with a rodent fixation. They do not survive long. Unless I get out of bed at 3.35am in the morning and rescue them. Or as the cat thinks: join in the fun, but then selfishly take the small furry toy away.

I tracked their current invasion to under the kitchen sink. There is a square hole where the water pipes go out. After the last invasion I'd blocked it up, but fitting a new outside tap on the Summer meant it had been unblocked. I re-blocked and applied peppermint oil. Cat then spent two nights staring fixedly at the cupboard door, like a replica of that old HMV advert with a small dog and a wind-up gramophone - but this time with a cat and a cupboard.

Sadly, misfortunes like buses always arrive in pairs. I now discover that I must expend a shedload of money on new glasses.This is because our nice local optician told me on Friday that my reading glasses had basically 'had it' - I think she used some technical word, but the bottom line is, they can't bend them back into shape any more without the whole frame breaking apart. And the little nose thingies have split and cannot be replaced.

Most of the damage has been done over the years by me putting them down to do closeup reading and then lying on them. Or dropping them off various surfaces and then stepping on them while trying to find them again. The rest of the damage has been done by Little G and Small. Apparently grandchildren are a HUGE source of glasses damage. Who knew?

So a frustrating hour was spent trying on alternative glasses - frustrating because I basically want The Identical Frames and they no longer make them. And I am so flaming short sighted that I can't 'see' myself clearly in new frames without coming within licking distance of the mirror, which is undignified on so many fronts.

The frames I like: the ones where you only have actual bits at the sides, (I refuse to channel Irene Apfel) cost over £350 - I have an unerring knack of picking out the most expensive stuff. And the lenses - don't go there. Trouble is, no glasses, no writing life. Currently we are scrabbling around down the back of the sofa and tipping out the penny jar.

So, if anybody with a mouse problem wants to hire a small tortoiseshell cat - completely unreasonable rates, but mouse problem pretty well guaranteed to be solved, please apply. Elderly myopic writer needs new glasses to write blockbuster to pay for new glasses.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Snippets from the Far Side of Sanity


So that was Easter. Despite the usual plea to the other Grumpy Old Sod not to buy me an Easter egg, I got one. A large one. Resistance gave out on Sunday evening, when almost the whole lot was eaten. In one sitting. It was interesting, in a detached way, to then observe the effect of far too much sugar on a member of the zimmerati.

Prosecco affects me completely differently. One glass, and I am the life and soul of whatever gathering I am attending. Two glasses, and I am still the life and soul, but only I think so. Nobody will ever tell me what happens after three glasses.

Be that as it may, sugar in excess makes me verbally aggressive, and  I managed to get into some great scraps on Twitter on Sunday night. An ability to spell abusive words would have helped. But you can't have everything in this life.

Monday morning, the scales told me I had overdone it. Since the cancer thing, I've been trying not to put on weight, but it's hard, on account of getting breathless far more than I used to, and finding exercise difficult as a result. Nevertheless. This was depressing, and I was so upset that I had to finish off the remaining chocolate to compensate.

However ironic this state of affairs may appear, it is NOTHING in comparison to the Brexit Blue Passport Debacle. For those who live in their own bubble: our beloved government has decided that when (if) we leave the EU, we MUST have our own British Blue passports, like we used to have in the good old days of Empire (only they were black, I still have mine from 1965).

The work was put out to tender, and a bid accepted. From an EU company, based in the EU which we are in theory, leaving next year so that we can 'take back control'. Oh how wonderful! Several of the madder patriots immediately fell over themselves justifying this on the grounds that the government was getting the best deal for the British taxpayer.

Sadly, the British company who lost the bid, doesn't agree, and is now suing the government. On what grounds, I cannot imagine ~ patriotism? Sore losers? Who knows. Whatever way you cut it, you get irony in your slice. Sometimes, you just couldn't make it up, could you?


Monday, 26 March 2018

Nitty Gritty (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)



Little G and Small LOVE their nursery and frequently bring home stuff they've made (in Small's case, with help) or paintings they've done. Sometimes, they also bring home things that are slightly less welcome. Like nits.

We have had several bouts of nits ~ refuting the myth that it's only 'poor kids whose parents don't wash their hair' who have them. You must be mad attacks the little blighters with a 'nitty gritty' comb. I don't have such an article in the house, so they tend to get gone over with the cat's flea comb, which works just as well, though the cat isn't too chuffed about it.

Small, however, is proving harder to rid of nits. His hair, now the colour of golden syrup, is thick and curling over his ears. There is a reason for this: the one and only time You must be mad took him for a haircut ~ to one of those places where you pay a small fortune for your kids to sit in cute little cars with their own personal videos, he refused to co-operate. The resultant haircut looked as if the hairdresser had been snipping at a moving target. Which is pretty much what happened.

Things have now reached a tipping point, however. Not only is there the nits sitch, but whenever Small indulges his love of dressing up as as a Pink Fairy**, complete with wings and a wand, I can get his hair into two tiny ponytails. You must be mad freely acknowledges there is a problem, but really doesn't want to go through the same rigmarole as before.

Step forward our lovely local hairdresser, who is going to give it a go on the basis that her own son was a total nightmare at a similar age, but she managed to cut his hair. Little G and I are going to do some pre-haircut indoctrination, on the lines of combing Small's hair and pretending to snip it, while chanting 'Snip...snip...snip ' in jolly voices which we will get him to repeat. L-Plate Grandad (Small's favourite person) will sit him on his lap. I will provide a selection of toys, and we will apologise to the rest of the customers in advance.
What could possibly go wrong?


** The 'Trans Activists' would tell me that Small is self- selecting his own gender. To which I say: if there are TWO dress-up fairy dresses and your big sister is wearing the WHITE one, and you like to copy her, it only leaves you the PINK one, so don't be so silly.


Monday, 12 March 2018

Would Shakespeare be on Social Media?

Left jaw-dropped on Sunday by a Facebook post on a fellow writer's site. 'I had my pants on backwards all day, who knew?' she shared. Too much info? By the end of the day seventy-three people had commented. Apart from wanting to tell her that when she reaches my age, she will discover that such occurrences are so frequent they are hardly worth remarking upon, it did make me think ... and I am still thinking ... about the way we writers now have to 'put ourselves out there'.

With the development of  Facebook/Twitter etc, it is getting far harder to preserve one's privacy - given that readers, both actual or prospective, now want to share not only our work, but our lives. And yet, here is the paradox: writers, by their very nature, possess the sort of introvert, secretive personalities that make them go and lock themselves away in a room for hours at a time, so that they can invent stuff in their heads.

No longer is this enough, though. It is now almost obligatory upon any writer wanting to sell his/her work to feed the insatiable reading public's hunger for details of their lives, or their writing regime. I wonder whether we are beginning to reach the counter-productive stage, where maintaining a high-level media profile is actually hindering the 'real' writing process from taking place. Even writing this blog means that I am not editing the 6th Victorian Detective book novel, prior to handing it over to the professionals.  Not sure how to square this circle. You?

But in answer to my question about Shakespeare, yes, I am absolutely sure he would have loved it. I can just imagine the sort of stuff he'd have posted, too: "To Deptford, where I quaffed much ale. Upon return to my lodgings, discovered I had been wearing mine hose inside out. A merry jape."

Not sure we'd have had as many plays, though



Saturday, 10 March 2018

How to be a Good Editor


Christmas is heading for the far distant horizon, so I am now embarking upon the major process of editing the first draft of Fear & Phantoms, book six in the Victorian Detectives series, before sending it to my first reader/editor for a read-through.

Editing is, in its essence, the art of making things sound better. I have had various editors in my time and they all work in different ways. My OUP editor maintained a firm hands-off stance, more or less allowing the book to emerge from manuscript to finished product unscathed with just a few marginal queries en route. On the other hand, I have had editors who carefully scrutinise every paragraph, and red-pencil everything they want changing.

It is a fine balance for the writer to maintain. On the one hand an editor does (or should) know what makes good, readable prose and so it is in one's interest to take on board suggestions offered. However it is a moot point how far an editor allows their own 'reading' of the manuscript, and involvement in the creative process to predominate over the original voice of the author. I have been told, on one memorable occasion, that a character ''wouldn't have said that''. As if I knew nothing about them. Sometimes, you have to fight for your integrity. It is never an easy balance.

On this occasion though, I shall be doing my own edits, which means I shall be fighting for my integrity against myself, which will be interesting, and the internal Civil War will probably throw up all sorts of queries. Which I shall have to refer to myself to solve. Hopefully any conflict and animosity will abate enough so that the two of us can get on with it.

By the time the book reaches my final editor, it will be almost summer. I am not good in hot weather, but the heat in the Victorian era must have been almost insupportable for women. Forced to go about in tight whalebone corsets, stockings, and numerous undergarments, forbidden to show their arms and legs for fear of exciting male sensibilities, one can barely imagine the torture they must have undergone.

And then there was the smell to contend with. In the days before Bazalgette revolutionised the sewerage system, everything made its malodorous journey through London to the River Thames, into which raw sewage and the by-products from factories, and slaughterhouses were poured, so that in the heat of summer, the stink was unbearable.

There is a story that Queen Victoria, visiting the Houses of Parliament one day, noticed small pieces of screwed-up toilet paper floating on the Thames. Upon inquiring of an official what they were, she was told that they contained messages of goodwill from her subjects.
Now that's what I call good editing.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

6 Top Tips for Successful Book Talks

Speaking to Harpenden Writers

At some point in your literary career, you may well be asked to give a talk about your books. If you are a children's writer, it is expected that you will tour schools doing just that. Even if you are 'just' an Ebook author/blogger you could still find yourself clobbered for a local festival/writing panel. It can be fun; it can be nerve-wracking. Most of how it will be depends upon your pre-prep. In this series of blogs, I'm going to share my tips from 10 years of public speaking (Including gigs at the Edinburgh and Cheltenham Literary Festivals). Look upon any invitation to speak as a selling opportunity. You may shift as many as 80 books in one session. You are unlikely to do that via Amazon/bookshops. And you could get spin-off invites.

Tips on Pre-Preparation

1. Check how long you are 'on'. It is usually an hour. Break that down into: 25 mins speaking, 15 mins questions, 20 mins book signing and informal chat.

2. Check whether you are going to be paid. The rule of thumb is if people pay to come in, you should receive at least 1/3rd of the 'door'.

Cheltenham Literary Festival
3. Make sure you let the venue know exactly what you will need on the day: table for your stuff,  another table for your books, a chair. I keep it very simple. Try not to bring loads of technical equipment. People really react better to just you and your voice.

4. Check who is responsible for the publicity. If it is a Festival, it is up to them to publicize you. Make sure you supply organisers with your bio, title of session, mention of signed books being available to purchase (you want to sell, right?) and an up to date picture. Please. I've been to talks where the writer used a MUCH younger pic for their publicity. C'mon people!

5. Offer to contact local press with an interesting press release. This is often a winner if the organisers are too busy or have far more famous writers than you to focus on.

6. Stock up with business cards and copies of your books. Make sure you have at least 2 pens that work and you can remember your name (if using a nom-de-plume.)

Book talks are really enjoyable occasions, and once you've done a few, you will really start to feel the 'buzz'. I assure you!
My 'Victorian' table

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Top Tips on Giving Terrific Book Talks


Once it comes to public notice that you have published a book, or books, you may well find that you are invited to speak to a group about it. Or you may apply to one of the numerous literary festivals to be a speaker. Either way, it is important to plan and prepare carefully in advance, if for no other reason than it stops you panicking as the day draws closer. I have participated in the Edinburgh, Cheltenham and St Albans Literary Festivals as both visiting author and audience, and over the years I have sat through some pretty dire author talks ( I hope I haven't given any!)., so let's look at some of the methods I use to talk about my books.

1. Your session should contain 3 elements

* You and your books ~ how you write, why you write, what you write. With readings from your books.
* Audience questions.
* Informal book signing and chat.


I suggest for an hour's session the ratio should split into: 25 mins talk, 15 mins questions, 20 mins chat and signings. Obviously the last two can overlap.

2. Set the Scene - including yourself

There is nothing more boring than a pile of books on a bare table. Or a bare table. People like to look at interesting stuff while you are speaking. THINK about your genre. I bring a Victorian top hat and hatbox, part of a Victorian tea set, I lay the table with a lace tablecloth, I also have opera gloves, a seed pearl bag and some of my original Victorian books, which I stand up so people can see the covers.
I wear a steampunk outfit. I put my books to sell on a separate table away from the talk area.

Start collecting interesting stuff for a table display.

3. Practice makes perfect

If you have never spoken in public before, or feel nervous, WRITE your talk out in full first. Then SAY it ~ speak more slowly than normal and time yourself. Keep practicing ~ how do you think actors learn their lines? Some people perform in front of a mirror, or film themselves so they can eliminate any unnecessary gestures. Once you know your talk pretty well, reduce it to one sheet of paper with key words.

4. Sit or stand?

Stand. Always. You command the room, and can check the back row hasn't dozed off. Also you can walk about and pick up some of the interesting objects as you talk about your books.

5. Q & A

Have some pre-prepared questions to stimulate a debate, in case nobody asks anything. Things like: what do they think about self-publishing ~ is it just an excuse for poor writing? Do they prefer ebooks to print and why? What was the last book they read that they really enjoyed? Do they think some writers get over-hyped?

Be prepared to divulge all sorts of stuff. Some audiences will ask how much you earn, have you ever got a bad review, etc etc. Laugh it up and don't get insulted. I frequently bring some rejection letters along and read them out to much merriment.

Next week, we'll finesse your technique, look at a few more tips and pick up on any comments left by you that need attention.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

10 Things I learned during Radiotherapy



1. Radiation therapy uses a special kind of high-energy beam to damage cancer cells.These high-energy beams, which are invisible to the human eye, damage a cell’s DNA, the material that cells use to divide. Cancer cells are more easily destroyed by radiation, while healthy, normal cells are better able to repair themselves and survive the treatment. (That's as techie as I'm going to get.)

2. It's not the most dignified of procedures  ... you have to lie with your arms over your head, nuddy from the waist up, and they mark you with pen before the machine zaps you. Yep.

3. Some of the radiographers have Very Cold Hands.

4. The machines break down because they are in constant use and the NHS can't afford to replace them as often as they should.

5. You get extremely tired (part of the tiredness is travelling there and back every day).

6. After three days, everything tastes of lemon floor polish.

7. When you are told to drink as much as possible, they don't mean prosecco.

8. It is amazing what you can endure, both physically and mentally (though see 7 above, which would have helped considerably on this).

9. It seems interminable when you start, but it DOES come to an end.

10. There are lots of very wonderful people on social media: I got sent chocolates, wine, books, pencils, cards, good wishes, and some lovely hand-warmers.

I finish being cooked on Tuesday, and I shall be taking in a big cake for all the lovely hard-working staff. The NHS has been there for me in spades, as it has been for thousands of other women with cancer and, pace this awful government trying to sell it off covertly to US healthcare providers, I hope it will continue to be there for all of us, when we need it, for ever.
I am truly grateful. 

Sunday, 21 January 2018

3 Reasons to Self-Publish


With publication of the fifth Victorian Detectives novel, Wonders & Wickedness, and a sixth on the way I have now firmly moved into the entirely self-published category. And I been asked once again by several people why I decided not to go with a commercial publisher.

Here are my reasons:

1. Control: As a self-published author, I  have a lot of autonomy. I can do whatever I like, publicity-wise, and if you follow me on Twitter (@carolJhedges) you will know that I do. I had very little autonomy with Usborne and OUP and I gather that some big publishing houses like to keep a close eye on their writers so they don't run amok on social media, which could rebound back on them. Also I gather that many houses prefer writers to promote other writers on their list (possibly why I rarely get promoted by Choc Lit writers, lovely though they are).

2. Choice: I  chose the wonderful Gina Dickerson ( @GinaDWriter ) of RoseWolf  Design to come up with my new covers. They are certainly quirky and different ... just like the stories .. and, dare I say it, like the author of the stories herself! When I was mainstream published, I had to accept whatever their in-house cover people produced whether I bought into the concept or not.

Also, I can choose and change the key words that help readers locate my books, and I can fiddle around with Amazon's book categories, if I want to. As I am an inveterate fiddler, I do.

3. Cash:  As a commercially published writer of adult fiction I was getting 40% of all ebook sales, far less on printed books. As a published children's writer that dropped to 12% of all book sales. And my then agent creamed off 10% on top of that. As Little G Books (my publishing imprint), I can command 70% of sales. The difference in my monthly figures has been remarkable.

Ok, I know it is all too easy nowadays to write a book, cobble together a cover and upload the finished product to Amazon .Advances in technology have opened up enormous opportunities for self-publishing that were never there when I started writing books, and that is a good thing.

I also acknowledge that inevitably, there is a lot of dross out there and it lets the side down. Poorly written and produced books with typos, badly designed covers, sold at rock bottom prices or given away for free, which is not the way I want to go.

Despite the many ''Hey, I produced a book for virtually nothing'' blogs, the writers of the best self-published books have usually used beta readers, then paid out for professional editing, proofreading and cover designing. It is hard work at every stage, and having done it five times now, I can attest to the pain.

But in a world where celebs are sneaking all the good publishing deals, and agents are less and less able to place books, I still think that going solo, if you can, is the best and most lucrative way of presenting your work to the reading public. And there is HUGE satisfaction from holding a book in your hand, or seeing it in a shop and knowing that you produced yourself.

So what's your publishing experience? And as a reader, do you ''prefer'' a book that has a 'proper publisher' behind it? Do share your thoughts ....

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Carpe Natalis (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)


So that was Christmas. Little G got the bicycle she desperately wanted, and has spent a lot of time riding round the small grassy island outside the local cathedral. A few falls have also occurred, but give her her due, she has got up and got straight back on.

Mind you, she has a helmet to protect her, as they all do nowadays. I remember 'back in the old days' one fell off a bike, bashed various body parts, and that was life. I still carry the scars of a very nasty fall, age 7. Meanwhile, Small loves watching her ride, and gets very excited and wavy as she passes him, feet pedalling furiously.

But Christmas has been, and it has gone, and any sensible small person fixes their gaze upon the next big event. So it is with Little G, who is now eyeing up the approaching celebration of her fourth birthday. Actually, the next big event is You Must Be Mad's birthday, but apparently that is of secondary importance.

'It's my birthday soon,' she tells me when we pop round to see them, post Christmas.
'I think it's your mum's birthday first,' I say.
Little G waves this irrelevant information away with the contempt it merits.
'Yes, but I'm going to be FOUR!' she tells me earnestly.

She also informs me that she is having an 'Alice in Wonderland/Princess' Party. The second was what she originally wanted. The first is You Must Be Mad's idea. The usual hard won compromise has been reached. We have been given our orders: L-Plate Grandad will make his famous egg sandwiches, and I will try to stop Small from messing up the games, and getting trampled underfoot.

At some point in the proceedings, Little G will ingest too much cake, morph into Sugar Baby and stomp upstairs in tears ~ mind, this assumption is based purely on the past three birthdays.

'What happens after your birthday?' I ask her.
Little G ponders for a nanosecond.
'Small's birthday,' she says. 'Then it will be Christmas again.'
That's how we roll.