Saturday, 29 February 2020

You Don't Have To Be Jewish ...


Hello. My name is Carol and I'm a hypochondriac. I am also Jewish. You don't have to be Jewish to be a hypochondriac, but if you want to do it properly, being Jewish gives you a definite edge.

No, I don't know why. Maybe it's thousands of years of knowing we are the Chosen People while being constantly told to go and be chosen somewhere else. Listen, what do I know? Am I an analyst?

I do know that I spend a lot of time on the internet googling symptoms that I might have. And I mean A Lot of time. As a result, I have narrowly escaped a whole raft of illnesses, including some that are apparently only present in cattle.

Being a Jewish hypochondriac means that I always make sure I add 'and cancer' just before I click the search button. Because that is the constant fear, lurking within the true devotee to self-suffering.

Obviously, having actually had cancer twice, I have an edge on other Jewish hypochondriacs, and on you as well. But I don't want to brag, here. Let's just say, I am more Chosen in my self-imposed neuroses than the rest.

Which brings us to the IBS. I have just started a hashtag #JewswithIBS, because we ALL seem to have it. Mine, since the Brexit result, the election result and a couple of family things, got so bad that I finally referred myself to the doctor. There's only so long one can go without a proper meal.

Long story short: every test, every scan, every X~ray came back 'negative'. No cancer. Anywhere. So I was sent on my way with several prescriptions for tablets that might 'help'.

But. You know those 'Read all of this leaflet carefully' instructions you get inside boxes of medication. Well, I always do. Thoroughly. Because it's always interesting to get a list of ready-made symptoms to worry about. First perusal knocked out Medication 1 that advised not to take it if you had no appetite and were losing weight.

This left Medication 2, which I started taking regularly, checking the warning list of adverse reaction carefully. And guess what ~ within a week, I was 'developing' symptoms: tingly fingers, dizziness, nausea, and a presumed difficulty operating heavy machinery.

So now I have to google every single symptom separately, in case any of them are related to the incipient cancer that the tests didn't find, but might be lurking somewhere for all I know.

As for the current Coronavirus scare ~ it's coming up fast on the outside rail. I shall be getting round to worrying about it, once I am able to operate heavy machinery again.
    Sufficient unto the day is the hypochondria thereof.








Thursday, 6 February 2020

Rejoicing or 'Remoaning': How's your Brexit journey?



So how is it for you? Are you basking in those sunny uplands yet? Enjoying the gold dust of the Golden Age?  Celebrating your newfound status as OfBoris?

Me neither.

As many of you know, three years ago, as a direct result of the Referendum outcome, I applied for, and got, restored German citizenship, as my Jewish parents were forced to flee their birth country and my grandparents Alma and Rafaele were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz. You can read about it here.

What I did not realise at the time, was that the after-effects of the Holocaust were felt not only by those who survived the camps, or escaped from Nazi Europe, but can be tracked, by some process I do not comprehend, in those born later.

In combat terms, it is like having PTSD. Another description could be 'survivor guilt'. For Jews like me, born to parents who got out of the utter hell that was Nazi Germany, it manifests as a constant reminder that however safe we feel, there lurks in the shadows of our past, a time when a whole nation lost its reason, when millions of people who had done nothing more than not be 'them', were denied basic human rights and dignity, rounded up, starved, worked to death, experimented on, or shoveled into huge ovens and gassed.

And we were told, over and over, by concerned parents and relatives that the time could easily come again, if the right circumstances and the wrong leaders align.

Listen, I grew up on stories of the gradual indifference of neighbours, the relentless seeping into public consciousness, via a carefully controlled media, that certain races and religions were responsible for all society's problems, and needed to be expunged from the face of the earth. I lived with it. I still do.

But back to you. How's your journey? Did you just shrug when the media was full of photos and video clips of Union Jack-waving white guys setting fire to EU flags and singing Rule Britannia? Were you concerned when certain journalists were banned from government briefings? Does it worry you that attacks on EU citizens (and Jews) have now become so frequent, they almost don't register as shocking any more?

You should be worried.

We, who carry the horrors of the past in our DNA, are lighting our candles and stepping out into the encroaching darkness, and as we hold them up in front of us, we can clearly see shapes and contours that are both alien and strange, and yet chillingly familiar at the same time.


Wednesday, 22 January 2020

The Joy of Buses


I have written several pieces about the Joy of Buses. Basically, since getting my Freedom Pass, and selling the 2CV, I have taken to using local buses whenever I can because, apart from being ecologically better for the planet than other forms of transport, they are a source of great fun and adventure.

And there is so much fun to be had.

For instance, we regulars really enjoy it when we get a brand new driver who doesn't know the route too well. We all have a tacit agreement not to say anything when they go down the wrong road, because we like to see where we will end up. OK, it is a bit irresponsible, and yeah, we are sorry afterwards. Just not very sorry.

The other main source of amusement comes from the invisible bus stops. These are places where the bus has to stop, but for some reason, there is no actual bus stop to indicate it. There is a bus stop on the opposite side of the road, which has a timetable for 'the bus stop opposite', which gives the invisible stop viability, but there is no physical bus stop. We don't know why, but there are several on the main route into town.

The following true, if surrealistic, story took place last week, and to understand it, you have to factor in some roadworks, which meant that one of the regular bus stops was closed and moved 20 yards down the road to a 'temporary stop', chained to a lamp post so that the locals couldn't walk off with it, place it outside their houses and then complain to the bus company that the buses weren't stopping there. I am pretty sure this isn't why the temporary stops are chained to lamp posts, but it's what I'd do, given half a chance if they weren't.

I was on the bus with regular passenger and friend Rita. We rang the bell to get off, but the driver completely ignored us and kept going. Cue loud shouting from the back of the bus. Eventually the driver stopped. We made our way up the bus to his cab and pointed out that we'd rung the bell.

Driver (new one): I didn't stop the bus because there's no bus stop.
Me: There is a bus stop, it's just that it isn't an actual stop.
Rita: Look, there's a bus stop over the road, so there's a stop over here. That's how it works.
Driver: But there isn't a stop over the road.
Rita: It's only because it's been moved temporarily coz of the road works.
Me: And the stop on this side, that isn't an actual bus stop, hasn't been moved.

At which point the driver rolled his eyes, gave up, opened the doors and we got out. We decided to chalk it up as a point to us, because it was and WE are the bus queens!


Monday, 23 December 2019

Last Christmas I Gave you My Heart (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)


In answer to your unasked question: Little G's Nativity Play went down a storm. No baby was dropped. Small waved copiously and Grandma was so glowing with pride, you could have run the lights off her.

And so to Christmas. Excitement is building in You Must Be Mad's house. The tree is up. Small has not, so far, removed any of the decorations, as he did last year when he took a great fancy to a small felt dinosaur, which kept getting rescued, returned, and re-stolen.

This year, we are hosting the family, and I have decided to go for ecologically sound decorations of a 'growing in the garden' variety, so there is trailing ivy up the stairs, and holly, bay and rosemary festooning the dresser and pictures.

Christmas lunch will be a feast. Due to Small's veg phobia, diplomatic negotiations will take place beforehand over the number of peas deemed acceptable. L-Plate Granddad will set light to the Christmas Pudding, despite Health & Safety warnings, and everybody will don paper hats and tell cracker jokes that Small won't get.

However. There is a spectre at the feast. Next year, Little G & Small will be moving with You Must Be Mad, to New York to live. Six years of sharing our lives and having adventures together is going to come to an end. And under the jollity and rejoicing, the greenery, the presents, the food and fun, there will be two very broken adult hearts at the table.

But the show must go on. And it will. Because it has to.

Happy Christmas, everyone ....







Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Christmas Capers (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)


It has been some time since I wrote about Little G and Small. Much has happened since then. For Little G and Small, growing up has happened. Small is 3 and fighting a rear-guard action against all attempts to make him eat vegetables. Little G is 5 and at her local primary school.

Reception whizzed by in a flash for Little G, and now here she is in Year 1 ~ or 'Key Stage 1' as it is called. She reads exceptionally well, but thanks to the *wonderful* National Curriculum, has no literary appreciation of what she is reading. 'What did you like about that story?' I ask after we've shared a wonderful Michael Morpurgo book about a robin. Pause. 'I saw some digraphs and trigraphs,' she says.

I will be undermining the curriculum at every stage, believe me! But that is for later on. Right now, Christmas approaches and it is time to prepare for the school Nativity Play. Last year, Little G was one of 30 innkeepers, with the rest of Reception. They wore an assortment of tunics, the ubiquitous striped tea towel head-dress and sang a jolly song about there being 'No room' at the inn, bad luck!'

This Christmas however, Little G has been selected to be Mary and we are all at peak pride. In the week, her costume arrived from school: a long pale blue dress with sparkly bits, a head-dress and a cape. If you discard the head-dress and cape, the costume can double hat as Elsa's costume from Frozen.

The ensemble was also accompanied by a Baby Jesus doll. Little G has practised holding it in such a way as not to worry any new mums in the audience. When she isn't practising, Small, who has taken rather a shine to the doll, likes to shove it down his jumper and pretend to give birth to it. That's how we roll.

We have tickets for the first performance. So next Tuesday, L-Plate Granddad and I will take our place in the school hall with other parents, grandparents and family members to watch Little G's second Nativity Play. And it will be funny and brilliant and heart-stoppingly wonderful, all at the same time. Because it always is.

Nativity 2 ~ believe your journey.





Sunday, 3 November 2019

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, 31 July 2019

The Brexit Endgame: 3 Useful Tips



As the frenetic pace of 'Leaving the EU' increases on all sides, it behoves us all to take a step back and consider how we can best use our time and precious resources to maximum effect.

Little profit comes from shouting the odds and arguing on Twitter or Facebook ~ other than stressing ourselves out and becoming discouraged. There are other things we should and could be doing at this stage. Here are a few things I am doing. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments section.

1. LOBBY a Democratic US Congress person.  Link: 
https://www.democrats.senate.gov/about-senate-dems/our-caucus?fbclid=IwAR2XTPeMSAAqV90ncJMacefY3p3QEb0oMa5CIqtXtTqG72MA_VmmESUo94w

Boris Johnson is desperate to sign a trade deal with the US, regardless of the threat to our food, NHS, environment. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) has clearly and categorically stated that Congress will pass NO DEAL if the Good Friday Agreement is put in jeopardy. There is a huge Irish lobby in Washington. So tweet a Senator.. ESPECIALLY if you have Irish blood in your veins!

2. Contact one of the 'REMAIN' MPs  Link:
www.parliament.uk/get-involved/contact-your-mp

Dominic Grieve, Phillip Lee, Anna Soubry, David Gauke, Rory Stewart ...I'm sure you have your own favourites list. Encourage them to speak out and vote against the Rightwing Extremists currently in Cabinet. Thank them for being 'tall poppies'. If you have a personal story of how a 'no deal Brexit' will affect you/your family, share it.

Bear in mind these MPs are being targetted daily and in very unpleasant ways by the ultra Brexiteers. It is good to remind them that we support them. While you are about it, make sure your own MP is aware of your views.

3. Write to your local paper/national paper 


This is an effective way of reaching a different audience. It costs nothing, and ALL MPs always check their local paper to see what is being written about them. National papers usually have letter sections, and many invite comments 'below the line' of articles. Register, log in and add your comments. I regularly post comments as 'Sagababe' in the Guardian.

I assume you are already a member of your local Town/City/County 4 Europe group, always appear in public badged and armed with a roll of stickers and that you have pro EU posters in your front window. Excellent. Then, apart from continuous prayers to the deity of your choice, you are doing a great job!


Saturday, 27 July 2019

Can You Make A Million Pounds From Your Writing?


Yes, I thought that would get your attention.

Over the past few weeks I have seen several requests on social media forums from new writers or self-published ones asking if anybody knows a good agent, or can advise on submitting to top mainstream publishers.

I have blogged before about my experience of literary agents. Basically, they are there to make money for the agency, not you. They will take 10 -15% of your earnings, and unless you have an exceptionally good one (I am told they exist), they may well not bother to submit your stuff if it is not taken quickly. Small agents are in competition with the large established ones in a field that is decreasing all the time as publishers shave their margins and take fewer risks to stay in business.

Agents are certainly useful for sorting out publishing contracts and making sure your rights are protected: pre-agenting, I had a very bad contract from OUP (yes!) which my former agent was disgusted at. BUT the Society of Authors - well worth joining, can do that. Few publishers nowadays make you sign rip-off contracts - we are all too well lawyered for that to happen.

So, let's move on to the mainstream publishing trade. Forget all those 'X signed a 3 book contract and has been offered eight squillion in advances and a film contract with a top Hollywood director!!!' 
I now see these in the same category as those 'teaser' rates offered by big banks.

The sad truth is that 0.00000006% of writers submitting to 'one of the Big 5' will be taken.
These lucky souls are probably:

1. Very young, very attractive and with a very heart-tugging backstory (see JK Rowling)

2. Have an MA in Creative Writing from a university where one of the publisher's top writers tutors.

3. Is a friend, girl/boyfriend, employee of a publisher or is in the media business already.

4. Is a celeb.

5. Has just happened to write something that the publisher feels they can put out to compete with a rival's book that is just taking off.

6. Has been 'discovered' in one of those 'competitions' where the lure of publication is offered to unpublished writers. This is a useful way of getting round paying agency fees or having the hassle of dealing with them.

Then there is the vexed question of Royalties. This is the money you get as a % of each book sold via bookshops or other platforms. If you are a new author, you start at the bottom.

The Royalty rates offered by most standard (UK) publishers are:

10% on the first 5000 copies
12.5% on the next 5000 copies
15% over 10,000 copies

Yep. You are shocked. I checked my Usborne contract the other week and sure enough, 10% is the amount offered. Bear in mind that my then agent took 10% of that, which left me with 8% ... about 60p on every £6.99 book sold.

So why bother?

I return to my title. IF your only reason for writing is to make money, then go find a job in your local supermarket. Or do the National Lottery. Or find yourself a rich partner. If, however, writing comes in the same category as oxygen for you, then keep at it. Enjoy what you write, marvel at your luck in having such a wonderful gift. Start a blog. Enjoy chatting and sharing with other writers on social media. Self-publish. But do not hope or expect to make a fortune from it.

Of course, I don't expect you to listen to a word of this, because YOU have written the one book in the history of the publishing universe that defies all of the above. Good luck, fellow scribe. You may or may not believe me, but you are going to need it!




Friday, 26 July 2019

Letter to My New Granddaughter (Reblogged)

Dear Avalyn Grace

They tell you so many things about being a grandma. They say: ''it's brilliant because you can enjoy them and you get to sleep at nights.'' They say: ''You get to give them back at the end of the day.'' They say, ''you have all the fun and none of the responsibility.'' It is now a week since you were born, my little granddaughter. Your name, Avalyn comes from the Hebrew for Eve, the giver of life. It is a reminder of your Jewish inheritance through the female side of your family. Grace means 'the free and unmerited favour of God', a reminder of your Christian heritage through your father's side of the family.

You did not have an easy birth - it took three days for you to come into the world, small, perfect and bright eyed, as you were when I held you in the hospital that day after you were born. Such tiny fingers and feet, each crease a miniature of what it will become.

What they did not say, could not say, was how as I held you, I felt such a strong overwhelming love for you, my little one

It was like a great golden wave, sweeping in, changing everything. I did not know that such a small person could generate such big love! Now you are back home in your parents' tiny flat in London. You have your cot, with its whale mobile, and its white muslin curtains. Your clothes, so small and colourful, are folded away in the drawer, waiting for you to wear them.



My beautiful granddaughter Avalyn

You know nothing of all this. All you know is your mother's voice, her scent, the touch of her hands holding your tiny body, the milk that sustains you. Already you are becoming a little person with your own funny quirks. You like staring at the headboard. You turn your head when your father comes into the room.You continue to have hiccups, as you did while you were in the womb.

Little one, the world that you have come into and will live in is a long way from where you are right now

It is a world that is not always kind, is not always caring. So as you grow up, I want you to know that wherever you go, there is someone who will always be there. Loving you, supporting you, and caring for you.

Someone who will always make time for you, to listen and understand. Someone who is on your side, cheering you on, encouraging you as you fight the battles that inevitably lie ahead, sharing your successes and comforting you when you feel sad.

I promise I will always try to fill your days with laughter and blessings and good things

I look at you, and I see so much potential. Who knows what path you will choose? Your life is waiting to be unrolled, like a beautiful tapestry. Right now, we only see the first tentative stitches, the pattern is not yet visible to our eyes. I am so glad you have come into the world and into our lives and I welcome you with open arms and a joyful, rejoicing heart.

Your Grandma

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

THREE reasons to self-publish books


With imminent publication of the SEVENTH Victorian Detectives novel, Intrigue & Infamy, I have now moved into the entirely self-published category. And I been asked once again by several people why I decided not to stay 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 ebook sales. The difference in my monthly income 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.

However, 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 ....