Friday, December 11, 2020

A Rather Unsettling Year news

Everybody's had it tough this year. I know of at least one family in my own small circle who are all in hospital as I write. Many people are far worse off than we are. I, at least have been able to work, although my children haven't - mostly. I rail ineffectually against the government for its mismanagement, but at least I'm in my own home and we have enough to eat. I really  ought to count my blessings ever day, but it's difficult, sometimes. So here's our story of 2020.

On the 4th October, it was exactly a year since my younger daughter received her breast cancer diagnosis. We reflected on the year so far and wondered what would happen next.

Phillipa couldn't work from that point on, as she was no longer able to go off on cruises. She was able to do a few gigs, but not enough to keep her, so lost the flat she was going to move in to. So she stayed with me. Her treatment was shared between out local hospitals, anyway, so it was all for the best. Her sister performed all the chauffeuring (is that a word?) duties and her brother and I looked after her at home. After her operation (successful) her radiography started - every day except Christmas Day and Boxing Day, until the end of January. Talking to her occasional duo partner, they decided to see if their cruise line needed anyone - and they did! For exactly a month - February. And when they got back - what happened?

Suddenly, all my children were out of work. All gigs stopped and only the odd one has cropped up. Meanwhile, over last winter, my publisher sold out to one of the Big Boys, just as I was having a book released. I worried. Oh, boy, how I worried. This is my day job, and now, not only I, but two of my offspring were relying on it, and Big Boys are not quite as forbearing as independent publishers. So there we were, over winter, with one daughter in the grip of something rather nasty and me terrified I was going to lose my job.

However, a few good things have happened. First, Phillipa recovered beautifully. Then, I got my agent, who sorted out the publishers, with whom I have got on like a house on fire ever since. The three older children all managed online gigs of sorts, while the youngest, Leo, had his first book published. Not a good time for that, of course. All events (signings, etc) were cancelled. My grandchildren have both started new schools during the last couple of weeks. And in October the 21st in the Libby Sarjeant series was released.

And both younger children have recorded albums. Phillipa's is of songs wot her dad wrote, and the first single released actually reached number one in the Country Chart. Leo's is of self penned songs and is already out. So we've all kept busy despite the pandemic.

Finally, I Got Ill. Actually spent a week in hospital. Diabetes related and I am still recovering. but thanks to the NHS I am still here. Like most other people who have recourse to their services, I am stunned and grateful to them. I had a rather nasty relapse (poor Leo suffered the brunt of that) but finally was released into the community with a whole battery of new medication.

And now my granddaughter is self isolating because someone in her class has become infected. Like many families, we will be separated for Christmas. The boys and I will be in my house, Lou and her family in hers, and goodness knows where Phillipa will be.  Lou has managed a couple of live streamed, socially distanced concerts. Miles has given us a few living room concerts and I've been hiding.

This blog is now part of my new website, and I started it back in October. Then came the nasty relapse and everything went on hold. I had hoped to make it a cheery, hopeful post, but with the world as it is - rising Covid numbers and Blasted Brexit on the horizon, all under a government who don't appear to know how to govern a classroom, let alone a country, that was a vain hope. So we keep on keeping on. I'm trying to write Libby 22, and not succeeding very well, but I will keep going.

Have as Happy a Christmas as you can, people, and here's hoping 2021 turns out better than 2020.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Thoughts at the end of August 2020 - I am NOT Cosy.

It is Tuesday August 25th, and I don't know where the month went. The weather has suddenly turned autumnal, as a consequence of which I feel considerably better. After almost six months of being told what to do, shielding, isolating and playing the "old lady", the worm has turned. I AM going to drive again, despite what my (non-driving) son says and despite my rackety old car. I don't go far, after all, chiropodist, hairdresser, doctor and I might even venture to attempt Tesco!

Meanwhile, I have been watching Foyle's War. Not quite bingeing (now discovered there's an "e" in the middle) but watching them over a few weeks consecutively. I'm now well into the Cold War in 1947 and I'm constantly surprised at how accurate it is. Last night, saw a specially made documentary "The Making Of Foyle's War", which encompassed the War Office expert, the properties and art department and various other experts, which explained a lot. Over the years the odd episode has given me material for my own books, one of which I was describing to my daughter this morning. "That doesn't sound very 'Cosy', Mum," she said. My reply? Guess.

I have been fighting a One-Woman War against the term "Cosy", coined in the States, for years. I'm sorry, but I don't consider homophobic murder and attacks, people smuggling, modern slavery, child abuse  and paedophilia very cosy, all of which I have written about. Other writers in roughly the same genre have also written about similar subjects. We are described as following in the wake of Agatha Christie, who would have been horrified to be descibed as Cosy.

When I started my career as a novelist I was already a writer, in that I wrote stuff for money. I called myself a writing whore. I adored many of the Golden Age writers, although not Christie so much, and read many modern crime novels. Yes, funnily enough, that was what they were. Crime novelists. Then, a few books in, I discovered - via Waterstones, no Amazon, then - that I was "Cozy". Yes, to compound matters, spelt with a "Z".

I even founded a Facebook Group called Traditional Mystery Writers UK, which attracted a few fellow novelists, but has never really thrived. But now I'm determined to fight against this rather derogatory and disparaging sobriquet. I am NOT COSY. Neither am I a doddery old lady. I can (mostly) look after myself - oh, and I'm still earning my own living. I am extremely grateful to my offspring for being there for me during the Covid 19 lockdown, for fetching and carrying and generally doing the things I can't, but we've all got to stand on our own two (wobbly) feet sometime. So off we go into the rest of 2020 with determination.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Mysteries-U-Like news

I am going to make a recommendation. I write, and enjoy reading, lighter detective fiction. As I have documented elsewhere, my love of this genre came from being allowed to run riot amid my parents' books, many of which I still have. These included Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series (and occasionally a Tecumseh Fox), John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson - Gideon Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale - and Ngaio Marsh's Roderick Alleyn series. I re-read them all, and the Alleyn books from start to finish at least once every two years. On the way, there were other writers; Gladys Mitchell and Patricia Wentworth, to name two.

I was already a professional writer (features, PR, theatre) when I went back to school to do a Master's Degree in Creative Writing, a fairly new discipline at the time, and one I was already teaching at local authority level. Sadly, it didn't improve my knowledge of literature, which I had hoped, but it did introduce me to the woman who became my publisher. Again, well documented. We more-or-less started off together. As my final dissertation I submitted 20,000 words of a detective story which had first been conceived for the long departed World One Day Novel Cup. I had never seriously considered authorship as a career, although I had dabbled freely in the murky waters of Romance. Like many others, I had thought I could write a Mills and Boon romance, or Category Romance, as I learned to call them. Easy, I thought. Wrong!!! I came to realise how very, very clever these women, and the occasional man, were. I remained content to be friends with many of them, friendships I have maintained to this day. More of that later.

Meanwhile, as Hazel Cushion went on to become a fully fledged publisher, she asked me if there was any more of my dissertation, and if so, could she have it. And, could it be a series. Well, by this stage in my life I had expanded my reading habits and discovered, among other things, many writers writing in the same genre I had loved as a child. So there was a market for it, although received wisdom from the industry was, between much sucking of teeth, that there wasn't. We all know how that turned out.

And that market also extended to Television, exemplified by the hugely popular Midsomer Murders. I had read the original books - only seven of them - and even met Caroline Graham, the author, when we were both tutors on a Writers' Holiday. There have been other series in a similar vein, although none as long lasting. Father Brown might be heading the same way, but Rosemary and Thyme didn't last long. Shakespeare and Hathaway is a little more jokey/pastiche, but quite enjoyable if you suspend serious criticism. The Coroner didn't last long, either, although it should have done.

But I've found a new one! I suspect a lot of my readers discovered it before I did, but I'm terribly glad I did. It's been airing on UKTV Drama since 2017, and now I have all my streaming ducks in a row, I have been - I believe the term is "Binging" (!) - on it since the beginning of the series. It is a New Zealand small town detective series called The Brokenwood Mysteries, and has some very familiar elements. Lead detectives, of course, and recurring characters, often rather quirky ones. And very odd murder methods - remind you of anything? Anyway, that's my first recommendation.

My second refers to something more personal. You remember I mentioned retained friendships? Well, some of us go away "on retreat" each year, which I have written about before. Not this year, of course. Anyway, a few of them decided to release an anthology of shorts as a 2020 beach read. And to my surprise, they asked me to join them. Surprise, because they are all romance writers, and all have been, or still are, Mills and Boon authors. I really struggled with this, and failed miserably on the romance front, but I was edited by one of them, a particular friend, who brought me into line. And the result is up for pre-order. You can find it on amazon, and this is what it looks like:

So there you are! Happy watching and reading. 

Sunday, May 17, 2020

More thoughts on lockdown

I posted this today on my Facebook work page, and then decided I would post it here, too.

Lockdown has changed us all, even those of us who could be said to be living the same way we always do. One of the things that has happened to me is my younger daughter, currently living with me, was appalled that I was still paying separately for my landline, broadband and Sky connection. She immediately set about finding me a better solution, which she did, while she and younger son, also living with me, extolled the virtues of streaming services. I had looked at Netflix and been frightened to death. I couldn't see anything I liked and I just liked the fact that the Radio Times told me what there was to watch tonight in a nice, safe way. But I've had to change. The Sky signal stopped, and I needed an ordinary aerial to watch my nice safe TV. And my aerial appears to be broken. So, until an aerial man can come out, I'm more or less stuck with streaming. So I've found my own streaming service, Acorn, and those programmes I do like watching - even on Netflix. I am slowly coming into the 21st century. I have realised how much my life is governed by radio and television instead of my social life. I no longer do anything outside of home and work, which is depressing. I am lucky enough to have a garden, so I can go outside, but as I am a certain age with underlying health problems, the offspring are keeping me under house arrest. So, I'm watching streaming services and I've joined Zoom meetings and quizzes. I'm beginning to feel quite up to date. But when we're allowed out again, I'm going to take up every invitation I receive; I shall make the effort to go and see the plays and exhibitions that appeal to me, even if it's a bit of an effort. Because I shall remember what it was like when we couldn't do any of those things.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Writer in Lockdown - thoughts on Covid 19

Well, I suppose it's not that different from normal for those of us who survive on our writing income. I spend most days in the office working, or pretending to, stop at about 4 pm for a cuppa and a read on the sofa, cook dinner for between 6.30 and 7 and then watch television until bed. BUT. If I want to I can go shopping - supermarket, high street shops, big shops in Canterbury or farm shops. And if someone rings me up and says "fancy a drink?" I can say yes, put on a bit of a face and nip down the pub. Well - hobble, if truth be told, but the intention's there. And I can "Go Up West" to the theatre - as the girls and I did the day before the whole thing kicked off. We went to see City of Angels, which was wonderful - and, as I've got used to, someone one of them knew was in the production, this time in the orchestra.

Anyway, those are all things that I, and most people, took for granted. And suddenly we couldn't do any of it. Lou and I had a plan mapped out for productions we were going to see over the coming months. Phillipa, having just got back from a month entertaining rich people on a cruise ship, was about to go on tour. Lou had concerts planned. Miles had gigs planned for the whole year. Leo's book comes out this month, without the events it was going to have, and his American wife Carrie was due here at the end of the month. We are all, as a family, self employed, and the kids are now completely without income. Lou's partner is also a pro musician, so no hope there, then. In my household I am the sole earner. See last post on Fiscal Matters.

The consolation is that people are beginning to read more, and ebooks are essential. Book shops are closed - our local independent is now closed for good - and the warehouses are struggling, so ebooks are a lifeline. I will carry on saying I'm lucky, because I am. I have been offered, and accepted, a three book contract with Headline, my new publishers, although I haven't signed on the dotted line yet. All their employees are working from home, so things are taking longer than usual. This is due to my agent Kate Nash, someone I have known for years, but with whom I've only just formed this highly beneficial working relationship.

Meanwhile, I'm desperately trying to work on the short I'm writing for inclusion in a sort of anthology with five other writer friends. It's proving desperately hard - but whether that's the effects of the virus or just of laziness, I'm not sure...

Keep safe, everyone.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Some reflections on fiscal matters...

The Guardian piece Louise posted on my Facebook Timeline, The Guardian, might appear, at first 
glance, to suggest that we're all rich. You know - the classic rich, white, middle class majority. 
Oh, whoops! Did I say majority? Well, them, anyway. And believe me, as the writer says in her 
piece, there are entitled, middle class hobbyists out there, supported in a variety of ways 
including working husbands, but also many, many writers who have other jobs. The only reason I'm 
able to do this job is because I was lucky enough to have no mortgage to pay, as my late husband's 
aunt had paid it off when she died. But the reason I HAVE to do this job is because I have no 
other income. 

Late DH and I were never brilliant with money. We did some smashing jobs, but none of them 
actually paid well. Our children have followed faithfully in our footsteps. And frankly, I consider
myself bloody lucky. Most of the time I can support myself and even any boomeranging 
offspring that appear for the odd fortnight.

Just occasionally, this all gets a bit on top of me. Such as learning that my new publisher won't 
be paying me until July. Now I know received wisdom states that it is terribly non-U to discuss 
money, but sorry, folks, sometimes you have to. I need people to know why I can't do things 
sometimes. Like go on holiday. Or to conferences. Or even to speaking gigs, which the 
organisers always tell me will "raise my profile" and that I shall be able to sell some books! Well, 
the amount of books I'd probably sell would maybe pay for a cup of tea and a bun, and rarely do
these bookings offer to pay, even the fairly well known book festivals. Yes, it's wrong, and at the 
beginning of my career as an author (not as a writer - that's different) I'd willingly go dashing off
to various parts of the country without even getting expenses. But now? I would rather keep 
what I have to pay for essentials and the moderate comforts of home.

For instance, today my PLR has come in. This is Public Lending Right, which we get once a year
for all the borrowings of our books made over the last twelve months. It has saved my life more
than once, and today I immediately paid for my recent delivery of coal, my car tax for a year and
booked an MOT for next week. Oh - and my granddaughter's birthday present. Very self indulgent, 
all of them. But this why I write books - because I can actually afford to buy coal, keep my car on 
the road (just) and buy my grandchildren birthday presents. I can manage to pay for the landline, 
keep my mobile topped up, pay my Sky subscription and my gas and electricity bills and my council
tax. I can even indulge my small vices - not to excess, but a bottle of Scotch a week? - and until fairly
recently, buy a few new clothes. (Warning - don't lose a lot of weight unless you're rich. Your wallet
will not love you.)

So there you are. The real life of a writer. I'm not moaning - as I said, I consider myself very lucky. If 
I have to work, at least I'm lucky enough to do this. But this is also why I, and a lot of my fellow 
authors, worry like mad with every new book. Will they like it, the publishers? Will I ever get another 
contract? Will I be able to eat next year?

Frankly, it's a bloody silly way to earn a living...

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Happy New Year (a bit late)

Well, here we are in Mid-January and I'm trying to get to grips with Life, The Universe and Everything.

My new publishers, Headline, are busily trying to resolve all the issues that bubbled up during the takeover...., and if anyone didn't receive their order of Murder Repeated this is the correct link. Murder Repeated. There are still a few unresolved problems, but Toby Jones, who is Editorial Director and my personal contact, is bending over backwards to be helpful. I have started the next book, with a delivery date of April, but I have no idea if the original publishing date of June will be adhered to. I have my doubts!

So, meanwhile, I have been in the process of setting up a Patreon Account. This will entitle those who sign up (for a small fee in US Dollars, I'm afraid) to some exclusive material. Regular readers, my Libby's Loonies, have all given me ideas for this, and my tech savvy children (that's the three younger ones - eldest's worse than I am) have been bullying me into doing all sorts - Podcasts, live interviews with other authors, you name it, they reckon I'm equal to it.

However, I've thought and worried about it for a week now, and woke up clear eyed and bushy tailed this morning, realising that what my regular readers wanted was More Libby To Read. That's what they ask for - when's the next book out. Only this morning, one of them sent me a message saying she'd just finished Murder Repeated and it was like sitting down with old friends, and when was the next one?

Also, we discuss all sorts on the Libby's Loonies group, which you can join if you're on Facebook (the link will take you there) as long as you answer the question, and that's all free, so why would you pay for it? What no one gets (it's my living, after all!) is free reading material. So - how about a little short story or chapter from an exclusive novella, say? That seems more sensible to me, and is the sort of thing I would sign up for. I don't really do Podcasts and stuff, although daughter Philly has introduced me to a great Stephen Fry one in the car.

So, when I've got to grips with all the details, I shall post the link and you can all become Patrons! (Only joking - not obligatory.) Meanwhile, I've still got the next book to write (no title yet) and my tax bill to pay. Cheers!