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What Big Teeth You Have, Grammar – Part 5

To continue with my occasional look at common grammatical issues I come across from time to time. It’s not intended to be deadly serious, but not too jokey, either, despite the title. Somewhere in the middle, then—grammar with a smile.

Onwards…

Starting sentences with conjunctions

Is it okay to start sentences with conjunctions such as ‘and’, ‘or’, ‘so’ and ‘but’? Take the opening line to William Blake’s poem that has subsequently been turned into the hymn ‘Jerusalem’:

And did those feet in ancient times…

So there’s the answer (see what I did there?)—yep, it’s perfectly acceptable.

I’m not going to overegg it. There are plenty of places where you can read more about this; here, for example: quick_and_dirty_tips

But it leads nicely (and there?) into the next topic…

Ending sentences with prepositions

“A preposition is a terrible thing to end a sentence with.”
― Winston S. Churchill

The grammar pedants would have Winnie saying, “A preposition is a terrible thing with which to end a sentence.” There’s nothing wrong with this second version, though it sounds a little stuffy to my ears. However—and here’s the crux of it—there is absolutely nothing wrong with the original version, either.

Over to Merriam-Webster: words_at_play

Startled

I have, on occasion, encountered this construction:

He burst into the room. I startled.

That’s grammatically incorrect. You can be startled:

He burst into the room. I was startled

You can startle someone or something:

He burst into the room. He startled me.

You can also start (jump in fright or surprise):

He burst into the room. I started.

There are, of course, technical reasons why the first example is poor grammatically. They’re to do with transitive and intransitive verbs, and requiring an object to be acted upon, but you can look that up yourselves if interested. It’s a little dry.

Here’s one of the more accessible explanations I’ve found online:  english_grammar_explained

 

I’ll leave you with a thought. If the collective noun for a group of squid isn’t ‘squad’, it ought to be. Till next time…

Guest Post – Maggie Plummer (Part 2)

American author Maggie Plummer becomes the first person to guest twice on my blog. It’s been more than a year since she first appeared, here ; what a different world we lived in then. Today she’s going to talk about something highly topical so it’s over to Maggie.

Writing Fiction During a Pandemic

When the coronavirus began to hit the United States a few months ago, it just so happened that I was finishing up my latest novel, Webs in the Mist: The Jessie Morgan Series, Book 2. As the television and internet news got more and more alarming, working on the new novel gave me desperately needed, long breaks from real life.

What an advantage, submerging my overactive mind in my 1970s Jessie Morgan fiction world! What a blessing! Each day, when I finished working on the book, I felt refreshed by having thoroughly escaped our new reality. It reminds me of how, during our too-long, too-gray western Montana winters, I sometimes find relief by writing about hot, sunny settings. It’s a mental vacation.

As the coronavirus crisis progressed, I watched friends and family being consumed by the news, obsessed with the pandemic’s frightening impacts on our country. Many of them were and are paralyzed by it.

I’m lucky, because somehow I’m able to keep working on my writing during this crisis. I’m lucky in other ways, too:

  • I live alone with my sweet dog and work in my house, so staying home in self-quarantine is not that different from what I normally do;
  • I don’t have children at home, taking away from my writing schedule; and
  • My new novel is set in the 1970s and offers a cheerful escape for my readers; I’m not adding to their fear with pessimistic, dystopian novels, and that helps me go for it, even now.

One writer friend is journaling about her day-to-day pandemic experience. That can help us work it out in our minds, and keep our spirits up. Keeping a gratitude journal is a great way to stay focused on our many blessings.

COVID-19 is a huge distraction that’s difficult to avoid, with the media in our faces. Our imaginations take off: What a story! How will it end? Compared to what’s actually going on in the world, perhaps our novel’s conflict seems trivial. How do you keep going as a writer?

I think we can give ourselves a break now, whether we’re being productive in our writing or not. As novelists we can bury our heads in the sand and feel good about it. But: If we can’t write during this pandemic, that’s OK too. Life is too short for beating ourselves up.

Here’s the bottom line: Writing fiction is good for our mental health. It’s a great way to channel our creative energy, so that we don’t go haywire and start bouncing off the walls. Writers need to write. That means spending plenty of time in our fiction worlds, even if all we do is play around with character studies or do internet research about our books’ settings. The main thing, I think, is to immerse ourselves in that fictional realm, letting our writer minds take a massive, deep breath of fresh air.

Don’t forget, our writing might just help others take refreshing, deep breaths, too.

Maggie Plummer is a multi-genre author whose latest novel, Webs in the Mist, is Book Two of her semi-autobiographical Jessie Morgan series. Like Jessie, she lived in San Francisco during the freewheeling 1970s, riding the cable cars in raggedy bell-bottom jeans. These days the author works from her Montana home near the shores of Flathead Lake, where she loves camping with her sweet black lab, Peaches. Webs in the Mist is Maggie’s fourth published novel.

Links:

Webs in the Mist

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Weird Words 3

The third in a series of posts taking a lighthearted look at some of the most troublesome, overused, misused, comical, or downright peculiar words in the English language.

All suggestions for words to include in future instalments are welcome—simply comment with your suggestion.

On with this week’s words…

Minuscule

A film with this title recently premiered on Sky Movies—perhaps I ought to get out more (tricky though that is in today’s world), but I was gratified to see it spelt correctly. Mind, it’s understandable why we so often see it written as ‘miniscule’. In its adjectival form, it means ‘very small; tiny’ and so people will, wrongly though not unreasonably, associate it with the prefix ‘mini’, and words such as ‘minimal’ and ‘miniature’. Merriam-Webster, while listing ‘minuscule’ as the only correct spelling, notes that some dictionaries accept ‘miniscule’ as a legitimate variant. A case of where enough people get something wrong, it ends up being right?

Jeopardy

One of those words I have to pause and think about before spelling it correctly. There was a time when I couldn’t spell it without looking it up. Then I realised that it takes the same form as ‘leopard’ and I’ve been able to spell it ever since, though I still have to pause and think about it for a moment.

Diphthong

Also known as a gliding vowel, which is a lovely description. It’s the vowel sound found in words like ‘oil’ and ‘loud’ (and, indeed, in ‘sound’ and ‘found’), where the pronunciation changes during the syllable. (Ironically, the word diphthong does not itself contain any diphthongs.) This is one of those words that you might come across occasionally in writing, especially if you are interested in the technicalities of the English language, but won’t often hear spoken, and so there is ample scope for The Avid Reader’s Curse to strike. In my head, I pronounce it ignoring the first ‘h’: dip-thong. Turns out that’s the American pronunciation and the British pronunciation is diff-thong. Who knew?

 

That’s all for Part 3. Don’t forget to suggest any words you find weird for inclusion in future instalments. I’ll credit anyone whose suggestion I use.

In Dublin’s Fair City

James Joyce, W. B. Yeats, G. B. Shaw, Iris Murdoch, Oscar Wilde, Maeve Binchy… The list of notable authors associated with Dublin is impressive.

I’ve made several visits to the city, mostly to watch Wales take on Ireland in the Six Nations and once on a cricket tour (yep, cricket). It’s always struck me as a city that revolves around its pubs. And some fine pubs there are, too.

So, literature, pubs and rugby—what better place to spend a long weekend with five old school friends in honour of us all turning fifty-five?

We chose the weekend of 8th February 2020 because that’s when Wales were playing Ireland in Dublin in this year’s Six Nations. (For those who don’t follow rugby, that’s the main annual rugby union championship in the northern hemisphere.) The downside is that to fly from our local airport, Cardiff, means paying outrageously high fares—the operators hike their prices for that weekend because they know how much we Welsh love our rugby and how many of us follow Wales when they play away.

Our solution was to fly from Cardiff with KLM to Amsterdam and spend a few hours in Schiphol airport, before catching a connecting flight to the Emerald Isle. Nobody (least of all me—the older I get, the more I dislike flying) relished the thought of catching two flights in one day and taking seven hours to reach somewhere a little more than an hour’s flight from Cardiff, but a saving of £300 each sealed the deal.

Flying out was fine. The few hours layover in Schiphol we spent in a pub in the huge terminal building. ‘Huge’ is not an exaggeration—it’s the size of a small town, as we were to have painfully brought home to us during the journey home.

By teatime, we had linked up with the final member of our party (who had flown to Dublin from Heathrow), taken photos of the Welsh rugby team (who’d walked past us in Dublin airport), and found our way to our hotel in the city centre, just off O’Connell Street. By six, we were partaking of the weekend’s first pint of Guinness.

 

We arrived in Dublin on the Thursday. The match would occupy Saturday and we were returning home on Sunday. That left Friday to be filled. Since we are fifty-five, not twenty-five, we were keen to avoid a daytime activity that involved excessive amounts of alcohol. When one of our party, who works for the British Museum, suggested a cultural tour of the city, the rest of us were happy to tag along. On our way to the museums and galleries, we passed the house where Bram Stoker once lived. Dracula being one of the novels I loved as a teenager, I had to take some snaps. Here are a few combined.

I won’t bore you with details of the entire weekend—this is a writing blog, after all—but suffice it to say there was laughter and reminiscing and Guinness aplenty. Much as you’d expect when six lifelong friends get together again after a while apart. That’s the thing with good friends: it doesn’t really matter how long you spend apart; when you all meet up again, you merely pick up where you left off.

Here’s a snap I took of the boys outside St Stephen’s Green in the city centre. They look like an ageing rock band recreating the cover of one of their albums from back in the day.

There is one more writing-related mention. On Sunday morning, we braved Storm Ciara to stroll over to Temple Bar. One of the settings of my Earth Haven novel, The Beacon, is Dublin. One of the characters makes her temporary home in The Quays pub in post-apocalyptic Temple Bar. I chose it because I have some happy memories of the pub from previous trips.

Since we were right there, it would have been a shame not to pop in for a pint.

Travelling home wasn’t dull. Since we had to once more fly via Schiphol, having to take off and land twice in the teeth of Ciara was, um, interesting. Due to inevitable delays caused by the storm, we landed in Schiphol and were deposited by the airport bus in the concourse with barely fifteen minutes before the departure gate closed for our connecting flight to Cardiff. Not much of a problem, perhaps, except that it turned out we were at least a mile from where we needed to be. Have you ever seen a group of unfit fifty-five-year-olds with a few dodgy knees and hips between them, suffering the effects of a long weekend on Guinness, legging it down seemingly endless stretches of corridor? By the time we made it to the departure gate, panting and sweating, we must have looked as if we’d crossed a desert, not an airport.

We made it home only a couple of hours late. Since we’d been expecting to miss our connecting flight and have to spend the night on the floor in Schiphol, I’ve never been so relieved to land back in Cardiff.

Oh, and Wales lost the rugby in a disappointing performance. It only briefly took the shine off a fantastic weekend.

Enid Bloody Blyton

Five years ago, I was asked by an online magazine, Mass Movement, to pen a short article on the topic ‘What changed your life?’ My piece was featured alongside one by Larry Niven, the author of Ringworld and Lucifer’s Hammer, which I thought was well cool. Anyway, the other day I was having a Facebook conversation with some friends who are reading Enid Blyton’s books to their children. I mentioned that I’d written this article, but when I went to find it to give them a link, it seemed to have disappeared into the ether. Not being one to waste an article, I thought I’d reproduce it here, with a nod to Rob and Ange, and to all parents who start their children off along the joyous path of reading with a spot of Enid.

Enid Bloody Blyton

I have just turned fifty. Bald, with a paunch, and a fondness for beer and rugby. My reading tastes and writing tend towards the dark side. Give me a scary or fantastical film, a bottle of red wine and a bag of chocolates on a Friday night, I’m as happy as a pig in shit.

Darkness, science fiction, horror… why, then, am I penning a short article about that author of insufferably quaint children’s books from another era, Enid Blyton? Enid bloody Blyton? Well, those good folk from Mass Movement asked me for a piece about something that changed my life, and books play a huge part in my life. They mould it, inform it, direct it. The love of books led me, inevitably and irrevocably, to creating my own.

I’ve been writing fiction for around twenty years. Working full-time in a dreary, soul-sucking job allows me to return home of an evening with my brain still functioning and so able to write. Many spare hours are given over to tapping away at the computer keyboard, to the exclusion of most else (I have a very understanding family). Difficult to answer a question about something that changed my life without talking about books. Which brings me back to Enid Blyton.

She’s the one who started it. As soon as I learned to read, I read. Her books, those aimed at very young children of which I was one, were the first. They made a lasting impression that shaped the way I have viewed the world ever since.

The books were Adventures of the Wishing Chair, The Enchanted Wood and The Magic Faraway Tree. My well-thumbed copies are around the house somewhere; I passed them on to my daughters. The children in these books have names like Dick and Fanny. Other character names I can still recall all these years later: Chinky, Silky, Moonface, the Saucepan Man. Hell, if I read the books now, I’d see innuendos everywhere and wonder quite what she was stirring into her tea while she wrote them.

But back then I possessed nothing but childhood innocence and a mind like a dry sponge ready to soak up whatever spilled its way. And spill Enid did.

I gasped with astonishment when the chair’s legs first sprouted feathery wings that enabled Dick or Fanny or whoever to embark on magical adventures. Or when the top of the Faraway Tree rotated to reveal a new and wondrous land that Dick, etc were able to enter for, yep, you guessed it, magical adventures.

To my fifty-year-old self, this all seems unutterably twee. But my five-year-old eyes were opened to the infinite worlds of possibilities that can be contained within the pages of a book. That sense of wonder has never left me.

One of my friends calls me a dreamer. He’s probably right. And it’s all your fault, Enid bloody Blyton. You set me on a path that I still follow. You changed my life. For that I thank you.

Guest Post – Claire Buss

I’m kicking off this year’s blog schedule with a guest post from the cake-loving Claire Buss. She’s going to talk about the meaning of success, a topic that most writers will have pondered at some time (me included; I talked about this very thing here). Over to Claire.

The Big Debate – The Enigma of Success

This is how the conversation goes:

“So, what do you do, Claire?”

“Oh, I’m a writer.”

“Really? Anything I’d have seen?”

“Well… all my books are on Amazon so…”

“Who’s your publisher?”

“Actually, I’m self-published.”

“Oh, right. So when are you going back to work?”

Because, of course, having a publishing deal with a well-known publisher like Penguin Random House or Harper Collins is the definition of success for a writer – isn’t it?

What if it’s not? What if I am successful for typing ‘The End’ at the close of a 60,000-word manuscript? Google tells me that 97% of writers fail to finish their book; therefore if I fall into that top 3% of finishers, surely I am now a success.

The traditional publishing route dictates that first you must secure yourself an agent as many publishing houses will not touch unsolicited manuscripts. And so, us happy individuals in the elite 3% must begin touting our stories to agents who receive thousands of submissions a year and are only really interested in current market trends. If you are a BAME author writing about diversity, disability or LGBTQ issues, then congratulations, you’re a hot bet. You are the lucky 1 in 1000 who will land an agent.

However, these things are never quite that straightforward. I know of two superb Pen to Print authors who have successfully landed an agent, congratulations again, but have yet to receive a publishing deal. So maybe snagging a literary agent is not full measure of writer success. In an article about the odds of getting a publishing deal that I read recently on Jericho Writers, an editor at one of the big-5 publishing houses in the UK buys less than 1% of the work offered to him. 1%. That’s not great odds.

As an independent or indie author, I have now published 14 titles, 2 audiobooks and had short stories published in 4 anthologies. Am I successful simply because of the number of books I published in the last three years? Am I successful because my work was deemed worthy of inclusion in other people’s anthologies? Perhaps that is not enough. I am also multi-award winning and can list accolades on my website of which I am very proud, but are they a stamp of success? I didn’t win the Booker Prize. Yet.

I have not so far managed to earn a significant wage as an author in order to contribute significantly financially to my family, yet am I successful simply because I do earn money from my writing – no matter the amount? According to research carried out by CREATe, the average author take-home wage in 2018 was in the region of £10,000 per annum so even if I were financially successful, we are not talking multi-million-pound deals.

The Oxford English Dictionary states that success is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.

For a writer who views their authorship as a business and is committed to achieving goals and self-imposed deadlines with the help of quarterly plans and a vast array of spreadsheets, it seems that I have met my success. For me, it is always about what’s next. I am constantly aiming to grow and develop as a writer, improve my craft and continue to write and release books that readers want to read.

I firmly believe that if I can just get my novels in front of as many people as possible, I will start to see growth in sales and readers. How can I achieve that goal? Well, that is indeed the magic question and once I figure it out, I’ll be sure to let you know.

It’s not enough to be successful as a writer, you also need to be successful as a human being. And a parent. And a representative of your ethnic tick box. Perhaps if we just focus on our best in all that we do, success will decode itself. For that in itself is another measure of success. Passing on what you’ve learnt along your journey and sharing your pitfalls with others, so they don’t make the same mistakes. Join online writing groups and share your experiences, ask questions so you can learn from others and pass on the tips you have picked up. If something works for you, tell your writing community and make sure others know they can come to you for help and support. It’s a lonely job being a writer, but it’s a wonderful community being an author.

(first published in Write On! Magazine, Dec 2019)

You can read Write On! Magazine online at https://pentoprint.org/product-category/magazine/ and if you’d like to submit a piece of creative work or a writing article, please send it to pentoprint@lbbd.gov.uk

 

Claire Buss is an award-winning multi-genre author and poet based in the UK. She wanted to be Lois Lane when she grew up but work experience at her local paper was eye-opening. Instead, Claire went on to work in a variety of admin roles for over a decade but never felt quite at home. An avid reader, baker and Pinterest addict, Claire won second place in the Barking and Dagenham Pen to Print writing competition in 2015 with her debut novel, The Gaia Effect, setting her writing career in motion. She continues to write passionately and is hopelessly addicted to cake.

To find out more about Claire and her work:

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Weird Words 2

The second in a series of posts looking at words, taking a lighthearted look at some of the most troublesome, overused, misused, comical, or downright peculiar words in the English language.

All suggestions for words to include in future instalments are welcome—simply comment with your suggestion.

On with this week’s words…

Myriad

This is a word I tend to avoid because I’ve always been a little confused about its correct usage. Is it:

—there are a myriad of ways to use it

—there are myriads of ways to use it

—there are myriad ways to use it

or some other way?

Many years ago, I read that using it as a noun (as in the first two examples) is frowned upon and I therefore shied away from using it at all. But, on further investigation, it seems that all three examples are correct. It can be a noun or an adjective. According to Merriam-Webster:

Recent criticism of the use of myriad as a noun, both in the plural form myriads and in the phrase a myriad of, seems to reflect a mistaken belief that the word was originally and is still properly only an adjective.… [H]owever, the noun is in fact the older form, dating to the 16th century. The noun myriad has appeared in the works of such writers as Milton (plural myriads) and Thoreau (a myriad of), and it continues to occur frequently in reputable English. There is no reason to avoid it.

So there. Use it pretty much in any way you want.

Supersede

—to displace, to force out of use as inferior, to cause to be set aside, to take the place or position of.

If ever there’s a word that you’d think would be spelt differently, it must be this one. How on earth isn’t it ‘supercede’? Apparently, some think it is. Here’s Merriam-Webster again:

Supercede has occurred as a spelling variant of supersede since the 17th century, and it is common in current published writing. It continues, however, to be widely regarded as an error.

Safer, then, to stick to the generally accepted spelling. Unless you’re feeling contrary…

Gubbins

I love this word. It seems mainly to be a word used in Britain, usually meaning the workings of some machinery, or bits and pieces that go into making something. I used it with glee in The Elevator, where two characters, one British, the other American, have just ventured out of an elevator, not into the office space they were expecting, but into a sun-drenched land inhabited by strange creatures.

“That’s the elevator shaft, right?’ said Kim from behind me.

“I guess so. Look how high it is. The gubbins must be inside it.’

“Gubbins?’

“Er, you know, the workings. Whatever makes it go up and down.’

“Ah. Sure. Okay.’ She gave a high-pitched, feverish giggle.

Like ‘discombobulate’ in Part 1, it’s one of those words that simply sounds perfect for its meaning.

 

That’s all for Part 2. Don’t forget to suggest any words you find weird for inclusion in future instalments. I’ll credit anyone whose suggestion I use.

Audiobooks – Part 2

When I posted about audiobooks last year, I didn’t anticipate writing another so didn’t call it ‘Part 1’. Well, here’s Part 2 and there will be more parts to come.

Part 1 can be found here: Audiobooks. In it, I explain the process that went into having The Cleansing produced as an audiobook—in short, I hired a narrator and the book went live in November. I bemoaned the fact that I could not accurately estimate how many sales I needed to achieve in order to recoup the initial outlay but guessed at a ‘few hundred’. And I could not afford to begin the process of having the sequels produced in audio format until I’d at least recovered that up-front cost.

Almost a year on, I can now say that my estimate was a little short of the mark. The true figure is somewhere (due to the way ACX calculates author shares, I still can’t make an accurate estimate) in excess of 400 sales—I’m a little over a quarter of the way there so, at this rate, I’m not going to be in a position to have the sequel made for another three years. Oh, man.

Time for another rethink. I wrote this in Part 1:

I toyed with the idea of narrating the book myself to limit cost, but discounted it almost immediately. I don’t have professional recording equipment and I’m hopeless at doing accents. No, it would sound like an amateur production and I wanted the opposite.

You can probably guess what comes next. Yep, I’ve decided to narrate my own audiobooks.

From a financial point of view, it’s a no-brainer. My outlay on the necessary equipment will be a fraction of what it will cost me to hire a narrator for just one book. To have all my books produced in audio format could cost up to £10,000 and that’s if I limit myself to low-end narrators.

I have also been influenced by other authors who have narrated their own books, such as one of my guests, A. R. Kavli. Here’s his post: A. R. Kavli

I began to look into what I need. As always, there’s a bewildering choice of items like microphones and in a huge range of prices. Long story short, I have purchased a microphone, a pop filter*, a set of headphones and, suspecting I need all the help I can get, a desktop sound shield**, all for comfortably below £200. I have downloaded the free sound editing program Audacity and am ready to go, at least equipment-wise.

But I’m not ready any-other-way-wise. I have three main areas of concern. Here they are in ascending order:

  1.  I have no space in which to work that’s ideal for soundproofing;
  2.  differentiating between characters without using accents;
  3.  learning how to edit and master (and discovering what the heck ‘mastering’ even means) the recorded audio is going to be so steep a learning curve, the top is covered in cloud.

Yes, I’m concerned. At the same time, I’m as excited as a child at Christmas. Despite what I said in Part 1, I’m determined that my productions will not sound amateur. No matter how many YouTube videos I have to absorb about vocal and breathing techniques, no matter how many hours of practising and trial-and-error it takes to sound professional and get to grips with the software.

Here’s a snap of the equipment I have so far.

I shall report in Part 3 how I deal with those three main concerns (and the other issues that I don’t even know about yet but which shall, no doubt, arise). Keep your fingers crossed for me.

* I didn’t know what a pop filter was when I embarked on this process—it’s the black mesh, circular thingy in the photo that will go in front of the microphone and which apparently cuts down on the explosive sounds we naturally make when we say certain words; it also prevents the microphone becoming covered in spit, whilst presumably becoming rather damp itself.

** As I understand it, which may not be very far, a sound shield doesn’t aid soundproofing as such, but helps to dampen the voice and limit echoing. My sound shield doesn’t appear in the photo because, at the time of writing, I’m waiting for it to arrive.

In the Durrells’ Footsteps

One of the books set for study for my English Literature O Level* was My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. At that time—around 1979-80—I must confess to not having heard of the book, its author or his brother Larry, also a writer. Back then, I was reading horror novels by James Herbert and Stephen King, or fantasy by David Gemmell and Tolkien.

As a young teenager I had read and fallen in love with Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee. There was something about Lee’s writing and his reminiscences about life in rural Gloucestershire in the period after the Great War that called to me.


Cider With Rosie

My Family had the same effect. I was instantly captivated by Durrell’s writing—it’s been many years since I last read the book, but I can still recall the wonderfully evocative way he described the cold from which he was suffering (and which partly prompted his mother to uproot the family and transport them almost two thousand miles to Greece). He wrote that the British summer had brought cattarh, ‘pouring it into my skull like cement’.

In case you haven’t read it (or seen one of the TV adaptations), the book and its two sequels are about the family’s sojourn to Corfu in 1935 when Gerry (Gerald) was aged ten. A keen student of natural history at even such a young age, he recounts his many and varied adventures with the Greek wildlife. But the real joy, for me, lies in the anecdotes about his family and the locals they encounter during their four-year stay on the island before war forces them back to Britain. There are also the eccentric guests Gerry’s eldest brother, Larry, invites to stay with them, usually at short to no notice, much to his long-suffering mother’s despair.


My Family and Other Animals

Larry (Lawrence) became an accomplished novelist, best known for The Alexandria Quartet. He provides the impetus for most of the funniest escapades, although Gerry’s bullish older brother Leslie and his flighty sister Margo, as well as their mother, have their share of comic moments.

As soon as we started reading the book in class, I was hooked and there was no way I could wait to read the book at the pace set by our English teacher. I continued reading it at home that evening and had finished it long before the deadline set by the teacher. Re-reading the book two or three times in preparation for the exam was no hardship.

That’s a long-winded way to explain why the island of Corfu has held a fascination for me since my mid-teens. Over the years, I have visited the island four or five times and have just come back from a fortnight in Glyfada on its west coast. The landscape, despite the paucity of summer rain, is surprisingly verdant, the sea is molten aquamarine and wonderfully cooling in the heat of the day, the sunsets are spectacular, and the locals are amongst the friendliest people I have ever encountered.

Although this holiday was intended as a total chill-out, recharge-the-batteries laze around the beach and pool—and was—we did take a couple of trips into the baking heat of the island’s capital, Corfu Town. They have a cricket pitch near the castle and harbour; on a previous trip, I’ve drunk a beer and watched a match taking place. Not far away, is a park dedicated to Lawrence and Gerald Durrell.

In My Family, the Durrells live in three villas during their stay on the island: apparently, two of the three still stand and they’re not far away from Corfu Town. Next time I visit Corfu (there will definitely be a next time), I want to find a trip that takes tourists to view the villas. Sure, they and the surroundings in which they stand probably bear little resemblance to the 1930s versions, but it’s still something I’d love to do. Short of time travel, I can’t imagine a better way of bringing one of my favourite books to life.

( * for those who don’t know, O Levels are the qualifications that teenagers used to sit in the UK at around the age of sixteen. They’ve since been supplanted by GCSEs.)

Living the Dream

I try to avoid talking about purely personal stuff because, unless you happen to know me in real life, I doubt you’d be particularly interested. Well, this is one of those personal posts so feel free to skip it—I won’t take offence.

I can’t place hand on heart and say I’ve wanted to be a writer all of my life. Although I’ve devoured fiction since I first learned to read, and English was comfortably my best subject at school, the notion of becoming a fiction writer didn’t materialise until my mid to late twenties. Then, no sooner had I sat down and started to write the first novel than the urge to become a full-time writer set in and has never left me.

Half of my life, then.

In Taking the Plunge, I wrote about what led to cutting my hours by half in my regular job. That happened in July 2017, after approaching my employers the previous August to request going part-time.

A lot can happen in a year. In my case, for reasons mentioned in that post, my writing output and sales dwindled to virtually nothing. Nevertheless, I was confident I could turn it around once a couple of things had fallen into place.

Now, two years on from going part-time, those things, and more, are in place. The biggies are regaining complete control over my books from the small press publisher, learning how to produce my own covers and paperbacks, designing my own website, and grasping enough about marketing to know how to give my books some sort of visibility. (My struggles with marketing are well documented in the Marketing for Muppets posts.) Apart from using an outside narrator for audio (I did consider narrating myself, but I’m dreadful at accents) and utilising the services of Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, etc to make them available to purchase, I don’t rely on anyone else for any aspect of producing my books.

In short, I have become totally self-sufficient. And I love it.

There is only one fly in my idyllic ointment: for two or three days each week, I have to toddle off to sit in an office and work for someone else. That’s half of each week taken up with doing something I don’t want to do that takes me away from what I love doing.

Despite my writing income having increased steadily over the past year, my wife—the sensible half of our marriage when it comes to financial matters—would not agree to my leaving the regular job because, as she rightly pointed out, book sales could fall away at any time.

I was growing desperate for a way to escape the regular job. Then, in the office a month or two back, a couple of colleagues happened to be discussing pensions, when one of them mentioned we can access our work pension at the age of fifty-five. Guess what age I’m turning in November? It was like a flashbulb going off in my head. My Eureka! moment.

The possibility of taking early retirement hadn’t been on my radar—I feel too young to even think about retiring. I looked into it. Retiring at fifty-five means a fairly drastic reduction in pension entitlement. It’s little more than peanuts, really, but here’s the crucial point: it’s guaranteed peanuts.

Saying my wife was happy about me retiring might be stretching it a little, but she was agreeable, if only, I suspect, to stop me banging on about becoming a full-time writer.

And that’s what I’m going to be. Last week I handed in my notice in my regular job. I’ll be officially leaving in early November. Since I work part-time and have accrued holidays, I only have twenty-two working days remaining. Not that I’m counting…

It’s not going to be retirement in the generally accepted sense. I won’t be taking up golf or gardening. I’ll be working twice as hard at writing, and all that goes with it, as I do now. I intend working my butt off for the next five years and then taking a breath to see where I’m at.

For the first time in my life, I won’t be dancing to anyone else’s tune. There are still almost three months to go so I’m trying to keep a lid on the excitement, but I haven’t looked forward to a birthday as much since my eighteenth.