Wednesday, 22 January 2020

The Joy of Buses


I have written several pieces about the Joy of Buses (if you haven't read any of them, here's one I wrote earlier). 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 ....

Friday, 31 May 2019

How to Make Your Brexit Party MEP Work: A Beginner's Guide


"The European Parliament is the only directly-elected body of the European Union. The 751 Members of the European Parliament are there to represent you, the citizen. They are elected once every five years by voters right across the 28 Member States of the European Union on behalf of its 500 million citizens."

Most of us have the blighted misfortune to be saddled with a Brexit Party MEP .  I propose that time might be usefully spent pestering them to stand up for our interests, so that they quickly come to wish they never to have been born into this world.
Are you with me?
Let's go!
(This is what democracy is. We require our representatives to stand up for our interests not act against them. We require diligent attendance and serious engagement with the issues. Let's hold these people to these standards and give them hell when they fall short.)
"The Code of Conduct ... sets out as its guiding principles that Members shall act solely in the public interest and conduct their work with disinterest, integrity, openness, diligence, honesty, accountability and respect for the European Parliament's reputation."

Links

About | MEPs | European Parliament

This also looks like a useful resource:

First email
I'm NOT going to suggest a pro forma. Any correspondence that looks suspiciously copied will be deleted unread. So ....

1. Find a topic that you feel strongly about, in relation to the EU: climate change, pesticides,scientific research, EU citizens' rights, Freedom of Movement, Erasmus, Euratom, food standards etc etc your choice.

2. Your email begins: Dear Mr/Mrs Fred Smith .... then introduce yourself as his/her constituent. Remind them they are there to represent your interests and ensure the success of the UK's future within the European Union.

3. Now you can express your concerns, your worries, and what actions or initiatives you want them to set in motion on your behalf. BE POLITE & PROFESSIONAL.

4. To ensure your email is considered, you MUST put your full name, address, post code after you sign the email to show that you ARE an actual constituent.  (Don't worry, Data protection rules mean it cannot be shared with any outside group.)

5. I suggest as well as cc yourself, you also cc. any other Bxp MEPs in the group.

The primary aim is to get them to behave like responsible representatives, but the secondary aim is to ensure they are sanctioned when they do not. So it will be important to log your correspondence and then make a formal complaint to the EU when it goes unanswered.

I'd give it 2 weeks after your initial email ~ then a follow-up to request an acknowledgement. 2 weeks ~ then a follow-up to say you still haven't received an acknowledgement. 2 weeks~ then a repeat of your first email.  2 weeks ~ then a request for an acknowledgement of the 2nd email. 2 more weeks ~ then you can complain .

Use this link to write to the EU and ask what you can do to hold your MEPs to account:

Remember to check votewatch Europe to keep tabs on how they vote: If they vote in a way that you think is wrong:
"I have reason to believe that the following MEPs in my area (names) are acting against my country's interests and those of the EU. What can I do to hold them to account?"

Don't forget that we also want to be sending a message to the European Union that we take participation in EU democracy very seriously. So the really important part of this process is to lodge a formal complaint if you are not satisfied with your MEP.
Please note that one aim of this is to get the European Union to apply more stringent controls so that MEPs elected with the sole purpose of undermining the institution have a much harder time doing so. These deplorables have had it much too easy for much too long.
Let's not forget that thugs like these subverted the rules in order to steal our democracy from us. Let's now rigorously use the rules to win it back.
And if nothing else it will make us feel better because we are doing something, rather than having to constantly endure things being done to us that we never voted for (no-one voted for!) and which the majority does not want.




Sunday, 10 February 2019

Transports of Delight: Why I love buses..


Before I reached 60, I never used buses. They were expensive, unreliable and took far too long to get where they were going, or so I thought. I have subsequently discovered how mistaken I was. Now that I am a member of the Bus Pass Crew, I know better. Apart from the occasions when they decide not to show up, there is very little about using the local buses that I don't like.

Interestingly, it was the presence of a local bus route, with named local stops, that was one of the things the Inspector on our Town Green Public Inquiry asked me about, when the obnoxious council barrister was trying to prove that where I live is not a proper ''neighbourhood''. He would only have to stand in the queue waiting for the 657 (it used to be the 625; we don't know why they changed it) or the 366 from Luton to see that we are a community.

I have got on the first morning bus into town, looked around, and realised that I know everybody on board. And there are some great conversations to be had. Here, using the bus has a set routine. You board and greet the driver. You scan your pass. You greet any passengers that make eye contact as you find your seat. You move to the back of the bus automatically if a mum and buggy get on. You vacate the 'elderly' seats without being asked. When you leave the bus, you thank the driver. If a stranger boards who is unsure of where they are going, you all pile in with your helpful ten pence worth.

Mind you, I live in a relatively small town. I also use the buses in London, and the contrast is unbelievable. London buses are so unfriendly.The first time I got on a London bus, I tried to scan my pass on the Oyster card machine, causing it to go into conniptions. I got glared at by the driver. I tried to leave the bus by the front, not the centre doors. I got glared at by the driver. I said thank you as I alighted. I got glared at by the driver.

Here, because it's usually the same set of drivers, they get to know who we are and where we catch the bus. I have known certain nice drivers to stop at non-designated stops to let elderly people off with heavy bags of shopping, and one morning, when I was walking up to the local school in the rain to invigilate, the bus drew alongside, slowed, and the driver gave me a 'do you want to get on' look. That's how we roll where I live.

The other thing about buses is that occasionally, something happens that just fills you with delight and reminds you that the world is so much nicer than it appears on the surface. Like the time I was travelling back from Welwyn Garden City and the bus stopped to let a little playgroup board. The kids were wide-eyed, noisy and fizzing with excitement at catching a bus. The leaders settled them into the front seats (hastily vacated) as best they could, but it was a bit like trying to organise a panic. As the driver pulled away from the kerb, one of the leaders gamely squatted down in the gangway, and very discreetly and slightly anxiously began to sing ''Wheels on the bus'', in an attempt to calm things down.

And then, something happened. First, the people in the nearest seats started to join in. Then those sitting behind them joined in, followed rapidly by those further back, so that by the time the bus crested the hill outside the town, everybody on board (except for two college students at the rear of the bus who were desperately trying to pretend they weren't there) was singing along to ''Wheels on the bus'' and doing the hand gestures, to the rapturous joy of the little playgroup, who clearly thought this was what happened on every journey.

That's why I like buses.