Books, books, books.

I am a writer, not full time and as yet unpublished, but I do a lot of it. Being a writer also means being a reader. When most people run out of shelf space for books they have a tidy out, fill a few charity bags with the books they’ve read.

Not me. I go out and buy more bookcases. Then I go on Ebay and buy more books to fill up all the space I suddenly have.

I got two bookcases (from ManoMano, delivered next day too) and, almost as soon as I had them assembled, I was on Ebay. I did manage to shuffle all the existing books around first and was quite surprised at just how many history books I have, oh and genealogy books, parish records and other sundry stuff. The majority is fantasy and science fiction though, but I can’t resist a good research book.

Anyway I managed to bid on a box of fantasy books. There was something in there by Diane Wynne Jones and a couple of other titles that caught my attention. There was a dozen in all. I also ordered a few books on Victorian London and society in general for research and a couple of other bits and pieces, as you do. Oh, and then I spotted a job lot of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine. In fact, having looked at my Ebay history, I have bought just over 40, yes forty, books since Christmas.

I even got a freebie. On the walk to the allotments I pass a house which, just recently, has had a big box of books at the end of the path with a sign, “Please take one”. So I did.

These will all get read, I must point out, just as long as I don’t die of old age first.

The box of books arrived yesterday. The rest will be dripping in over the next week or so. Anyway, when I opened the box there was a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring in there too, which my son immediately stole (because I’ve already got that one twice over anyway), saying “Oh, I’m having that one.”

I am a writer and a reader and I admit, I may have a problem, and it may just be hereditary.

Rejections, Eggs and Bloody Rain

A few weeks ago I got a rejection from a magazine called Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores. They are though, a magazine who will give feedback on submissions if asked, and I did.

It is nice to know why you got rejected. So many publications these days fall back on either form rejections that encourage you to try again with something else, or just don’t reply at all. I have had many like that, though I’ve also had a few personal ones.

Well, the feedback from Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores went beyond that. I went through the usual reaction to such critiques (horror, disbelief, fury) then, after filing the story under “edit this” for a few weeks I looked at it again and found that the readers’ notes I was supplied with (pretty much a full crit from one), were right, or mostly and now the story is in much better shape and has been submitted elsewhere. So thanks to Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores for providing such a brilliant service to those of us yet to make it past those first readers.

On another writing note I have entered something in quarter 2 of this year’s Writers of the Future competition. I’ll let you know how it does, as well as the quarter 1 entry which hasn’t been judged as yet.

In other news, the chickens, after a long hiatus due to bad weather, dark nights and being cooped up eternally by order of the man from DEFRA (bird flu apparently, even chooks are in lockdown in the UK), are finally in lay. They started, just as Mr Sod’s famous law predicted they would, right after I bought a box of eggs from the supermarket. They are now firing on all cylinders and producing three a day for two of us to eat. It looks like there’ll be plenty of omellettes in the meal plan.

All I need now is for it to stop raining so I can get the winter digging finished and I can get ready for spring planting. I shouldn’t complain too much though, some people are up to their armpits in water in their own living rooms. I’m still getting mooli, kale, beetroot and leeks off the plot and have spuds, squashes, apples and onions in store.

And almost finally, I lost half a stone doing dry January. Now I’m going to have to have a drunk February until I find it all again.

And finally…

KODAK Digital Still Camera

A picture of a collared dove sat in my cherry tree. There is a pair of them who come down into the garden whenever they see me feed the chickens because they know I also put out birdseed at the same time.

Always Check Twice.

I don’t do DIY as a rule, not unless necessary, not even a lick of paint. I can do it. I’ve made my own desk fitted my own kitchen, decorated the whole house, tiled bathrooms and kitchen floors. I do all kinds of odd jobs in the garden and on the plot. I just don’t care for it. My general rule is, if isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it. Those magnolia walls will generally do for a few more years, that’s my approach.

Then the other day I was walking out of the bathroom and the landing floor sounded out a loud clunk as it has done regularly for years now. Anyway, it seemed that some necessary repairs were needed, long ago to be honest. So, up came the carpet and the offending floor board. It was just a little bit, a foot long, that had been cut out when the central heating went in roughly eighteen years ago. Anyway, it had slipped off the joist and was clattering against the water pipes under the floor. It was a simple fix, a length of timber slipped underneath and screwed through the boards either side of it. It took a quarter hour, if that.

Then came lunch, then tea, then a nice soak in the bath, a movie (Zulu, if you must know), then bed. It wasn’t until I went to turn off the heating (none of those fancy smart thermostats in my house), that I noticed the pressure in the boiler had dropped to next to nothing. Then the penny dropped. A drop in pressure meant a leak somewhere. I had a sudden vision of all those water pipes under the landing floor and just knew one had a screw through it. It was the only explanation.

I checked under the stairs, directly under where I had repaired the floor, and saw nothing amiss. There should have been water coming through the ceiling, though it might have run along a short way, but there was nothing either side. So, up came the landing carpet again, out came the screws and the little bit of floor board that had started the trouble in the first place. Nothing. Under the boards was snuff dry, dusty as hell, but snuff dry.

Then it dawned on me. After I’d repaired that floor board I’d seen another sticking up proud and, after checking there was nothing important under it and that there was indeed a joist beneath it, I rammed it back down with a nice long screw.

Yes, you guessed it, that was where I saw the tiny little wet patch and where, when I took the screw out again, the water squirted up. There was something under it, both central heating pipes that went to the radiator in my bedroom, through the joist. I turned to a quick mental map of the house and worked out I was just above the corner of the living room and yes, there was water in the living room. Where half an hour earlier Michael Caine had been slaughtering scantily clad African warriors, there was now a mini Victoria Falls welling up in the coving and dribbling down the magnolia wall. The picture is from the next morning after it had dried a bit, at the time I was too busy drying up to take photos (save a couple for insurance if needed).

Cursing whichever god looks over DIYers and clumsy oafs, I went into a mild panic, which is not like me at all. I went all of a dither for a moment (possibly something to do with having PTSD) and blanked out mentally for a few more. I had to give myself a shake and a stern talking too. All the things I’ve been through in the past few years and a holed water pipe is the one that turns me into a jibbering wreck? Not likely, said I, and rummaged around for the Tesco insurance documents.

By the time I’d picked up the phone it was nearly eleven at night and the only number I could get through to was Tesco’s emergency cover line, which I quickly discovered wasn’t part of my policy. To his credit, the guy on the other end gave me the number of the emergency plumber they use and said to just keep any receipts and ring the normal claim line the next morning.

The emergency plumber they recommened was a company called Metro Rod, based in Manchester as it happens. After a bit of confusion, as they only deal with insurance claims and this didn’t seem like one, they got in touch with a guy on call. They reckoned he’d be a couple of hours (by this time it was gone midnight), and he was here quicker than that (I can’t remember what time he arrived as I was dead on my feet by then). He’d come all the way from the other side of Lincoln and had just pulled up on his own drive when he got the call.

While I had been waiting for him I took up the bit of floor where the leak was so he could get straight at it when he arrived.

It turned out that he didn’t have enough of the size of pipe in question to do a proper repair but managed to find a couple of connectors and an off cut from somewhere in his van, and fixed the leak.

He wasn’t registered Gas Safe though, so I had to repressurise the boiler and bleed all the radiators myself (which I actually knew how do do), though he did supervise and give advice. It was just gone two in the morning when he left. I was surprised at the price too. I was expecting my eyes to water and was all set to ring Tesco in the morning to try and get some money back, but it wasn’t that bad. Given the time of night and the distance the guy had to travel I thought £145 was quite reasonable.

He also left me a momento, which I may or may not get framed.

Still, it could have been worse. The water in the living room was pretty close to the TV and the sockets that power my PC, internet and everything else in the living room. As it is, the damage is all cosmetic, no one died and, in all the years I’ve been begrudgingly doing DIY, it’s the worse thing that’s happened (that was my fault anyway). So, put into perspective, it was an expensive dribble that wll take a lick of paint to put right.

Oddly enough, a small, but persistant dripping that had been coming from the boiler, long ago fixed but suddenly returned, seems to have just as suddenly gone away again.

Anyway, thanks man from Tesco and Metro Rod.

Here we go again.

Well, here we go again. Back to work (after a fashion) and back in lock down. At least, I suppose, we are all used to it now and know how to get on with things. We should, for instance, know not to bulk buy toilet roll, though I notice that Tesco, my local one at least, are only letting people buy one pack at a time.

We can only go out for exercise once a day again, so instead of a walk in the morning and another in the afternoon, I’m taking a bit of a longer stroll in the morning.

Work is a bit slow at the moment so I’m keeping my self busy reading, both my own manuscript (which is not as bad as I thought it might be) and the few dozen books on my ‘to be read’ shelf. It’s helping me keep my mind off the fact that I’m trying to stick to a calorie count (I’ve lost 5lbs since New Year’s day), and helping to preserve my sanity (though many would say that is a lost cause).

It would be better if I could get on with the plot, the winter digging is only half way done, but last week it was sopping wet and this week it’s frozen solid. Still, I’m still getting leeks, kale, mooli and beetroot off it.

On the writing front I’m almost done with a first pass through of a novel, it needs a good edit and a drastic trimming, it’s way too long. But I think it deserves to be sent around a few places. I’ve long since given up on ever getting published, but I’ve never given up trying (contradictary, I know). I’ve also got the beginnings, a few scrappy thoughts, of a short story stirring around in my head. I just need to grab hold of them all and pin them down in the right order.

Anyway, happy lock down three, (or is it four?) and a merry New Year.

I’m Still Alive

Well, It’s been a while again. I am still alive and kicking, but I’ve been busy lately.

For a start I’ve been decorating again. My daughter has left home and so my son has had a bedroom upgrade and his old room has become an office for me. I’m still working from home and have been quite busy with that too. It seems some of our clients deal with the EU on a regular basis and their software needed changing to meet whatever the new rules will end up being.

We have a new member of the household too, a rather agile and quite speedy bearded dragon called Viserion (yeah I know, but my son named him). He’s also rather prickly, in physique, not temper. I had to spend a little while repairing and upgrading a large and worn out vivarium for him, all the while keeping his impending arrival a secret. He was an early Christmas present for my son from his sister. I know the thing about not getting pets for Christmas, but we’ve had one before (in fact she left home with my daughter) and we’re not the kind of family to go abandoning him.

The new office, along with a new desk and filing cabinet, made from a double wardrobe that was no longer needed, is a wonderful thing of magnolia. It is now home to my laptop and wireless printer (which is connected to my brand new full fibre internet connection).

I do seem to spend an awful lot of time in there though and I’ve had to stop using my laptop for writing as my brain associates the office with, well the office. I now do my writing on my PC downstairs and take a break whenever my son needs to use it for school work. I may switch back to the laptop over the Christmas holidays when it may feel less like being in a workplace.

At the moment I’m editing more than writing anyway. I’m going through a novel that I finished the first draft of at the beginning of lockdown. It’s not bad, in fact I think it deserves to be published once it’s trimmed back a bit and cleaned up. So I’ll be submitting it as soon as I’m able, though it’s a pretty hefty size and will need an awful lot of cutting back first. I’ll probably do it in fits and starts, hopefully with a few short stories and a plot for another novel in between.

On the gardening front, I’m still eating lots of fresh veg, even at this time of year and with all this horrible weather, though I have been forced to buy eggs just lately. The chooks are just not pulling their weight at this time of year.

Charlie the Carrion Crow

Ok, picture the scene, I’m just getting out of the bath (alright, you don’t need to picture that bit if you’re particularly squeamish). The bath was hot, too hot, and I’m in more of a lather getting out that I was when I was in there.

I head to the window in search of a bit of autumnal cool air to revive myself, and what do I see in the garden? A cat. Oh yes, my garden gets visited by lots of cats, but this one is hunched down in the grass waiting to pounce on a big black bird that shows absolutely no alarm whatsoever, and no inclination to fly away.

It’s a carrion crow, some vague memory tells me. Now carrion crows are pretty big, with a wicked looking beak, but not big and tough enough to take that cat on. I swear it was licking it’s lips and imagining a crow supper.

Just lately there has been a spate of foul murders (horrible pun intended) in my garden and, still glowering out the window, I think I’ve found the culprit. This huge, tortoiseshell moggie has the blood of a half a dozen pigeons, at least one blackbird and a pair of collared doves on its claws.

Well, it wasn’t going to add a carrion crow to its meal list, not while I was watching. I legged it down the stairs (ohh, deliberate change in tense), yanked open the back door and the cat vanished like a streak of tangerine and smoke, across the lawn and through the back hedge. The crow should have flown off too, but it didn’t.

Instead it took a few hops away from me as I crossed the lawn toward it, intent on chasing it off before it became cat food the moment my back was turned, then it hopped back again and just stood there staring at me. Then it came even closer, until it was just down at my feet looking up at me.

My daughter came out, wondering what Dad was doing in just his dressing gown, squatting down on the lawn, bare feet turning blue on the cold wet grass. She trained in animal care at college for a few years and has a caring nature towards animals. I was brought up by my grandfather, a game keeper. We could both see that something was wrong with the poor bird, but were confused as to why it wasn’t trying to escape. It didn’t look injured, but experience with the chickens has taught me that means nothing.

In the end I put a tub of birdseed in front of it and, while it was busy eating, my daughter took hold of it. It turned out it had deformed feet. They were twisted upside down so that the talons were pointing upwards.

Anyway, we put it in a cardboard box and called the R.S.P.C.A. It took me three attempts to navigate their phone system. It reminded me of a particularly bad customer service department, fully set up to make you give up and go away. When I did get through to someone I was told to take it to a vet.

Luckily our local vet stays open pretty late and so I rang them. It was about 7pm by then and they couldn’t see it until morning, so I put food and water in the box and then fretted about the poor thing all night. My daughter kept getting up during the night to check on it.

Ordinarily I would have let nature take it’s course, but there was something about this bird. It actually came to me when I first went outside to it, like it wanted to be helped. It was also very beautiful up close, almost shining.

So, this morning, I took it to the vets and waited outside in the covid queue (that’s covid, not corvid, they don’t have a special queue just for crows), masked up and half asleep. They took all my details and I left the bird with them. On the walk there it had become a bit agitated but all I did was talk to it and it calmed down immediately, wich was odd.

It got odder when I got home. My daughter had fired up FaceBook and was surprised to find on her timeline a picture of a carrion crow and a message about a missing pet.

It turned out that this carrion crow is called Charlie and she (I have no idea how you tell) was found three and half years ago after having fallen out of its nest and being used as a football by a bunch of kids (for kids read evil little shits). Anyway, it was rescued by a man who lives just down the road from me, hand reared and kept as a pet. All of which explains why it seemed to take to me and wasn’t at all phased by the cat.

Pet and kind hearted rescuer have been reunited.

Now for a cute photo of a carrion crow in a vinegar box.

So much for karma. Not long after getting home from the vets I was informed that I wont be going back to work properly now for at least three months (new rules about furlough), my dental appointment had been postponed for six weeks (I sneezed a filling out, you couldn’t make it up), and I got a story rejection from Clarkesworld. All within half an hour.

I have however still got my hopes pinned on the Wednesday night Lotto.

Short stories and big pumpkins

I’ve been on holiday this week. Not that I’ve been anywhere, just not doing any work, or any day job work anyway.

I have been up at the plot. Firstly to dig up the main crop potatoes, which turned out to be rubbish. Last year I had six full sacks of spuds, this year a single sack full. I’ll be having to buy spuds for Xmas dinner this year.

Thankfully the brassicas, especially the cabbage and kale, have done really well, as have the winter squash and pumpkins. The leeks are a little rusty, but growing well all the same and the beetroot, carrots and mooli just keep coming.

In the polytunnel the carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and salad crops are going crazy too. Unfortunately, with the change in the weather, suddenly cold and wet again, the chooks aren’t firing on all cylinders.

Anyway, back to the winter squash and pumpkins. This is what was harvested today. Ben (my son) and I hauled this lot back in a garden trolly, 1.7km according to Google Maps.

That big one weighs in at 41.6lbs and the little acorn squashes (Thelma Sander’s Sweet Potato Squash) average around 3lb each. The marrows, small ones I know, are about 8lbs each. Around 120lbs in all.

No wonder I needed a soak in the bath tonight.

In other news, I finished off a short story. It needs a good editing, but it’s almost there. I just need to grab an idea for the next one. There’s a few scraps of stuff floating around in my head, but nothing solid enough to put into words yet.

A word of warning. A company called Webnovel contacted me regarding a novel I have self published on Smashwords, trying to get me to sign some kind of contract with them. Anyway, if they contact you, check out Writers Beware. They seem legitimate enough and their website looks pretty impressive, but their contracts are far from standard, or even fair. To be honest, the broken English in the email rang alarm bells from the start.

That’s all. Stay safe.

ps: did I mention I hate this new WordPress block editor thingy?

New story and monster cabbages.

I’ve been a bit busy with the day job just recently but I’m on holiday now. I think the distraction has done me good though because a story idea popped into my head the other day and I’m already halfway through it.

I’m still putting several stories out there into the submission mill too. No luck as yet, but it’s a slow process at the best of times.

In other news, specifically news regarding vegetables and fruit, all seems to be well, or as well as can be expected given the strange weather we keep getting. Things seem to be growing huge this year. I’ve already had some really big onions and my leeks are far bigger than they usually are at this time of year. Raspberries have been coming thick and fast and there is a massive pumpkin (which I don’t remember planting at all) growing in the squash patch.

I’ve yet to dig up the maincrop potatoes, I’ll be doing that over the next week, but here is a picture of a stupidly big cabbage that I carried home the other day. It weighed in at 14.5lbs, just over a stone. We’re eating it 1/8th at a time.

Have I said I hate this new WordPress editor? I do, I really do.

Decorating, submissions and teeth

Things have been a bit busy just lately. I’ve had a little bit of day job work to do, but not much. Last week I took as holiday and decorated the living room, which sent my fitbit mental. Apperently I did three hours of aerobics (stripping wallpaper) and a session of swimming (sanding down the walls).

Anyway, the living room is much lighter and brighter now, and I’ve lost a kilo or so off my belly, so all good.

On the writing front, not much has happened. I’ve revisted a couple of old stories, one of which won an honourable mention from Writers of the Future, and submitted them. So I have done a bit of writting, though nothing fresh.

I have five stories out doing the submission rounds now and a couple rattling around in my head, one of which is shouting to be written so loud that the final bits just fell into place while I was soaking in the bath.

Unfortunately I have a bit of a tooth problem at the moment. I sneezed quite violently last night and blew out a filling. It’s not painful at the moment, but it’s starting to nag at me and I keep catching my lip in the gap. Hopefully my dentist is open again for appointments. I’ll find out in the morning.

*really not sure about this new WordPress editor, why so many bells and whistles?

Decorating and a FitBit

Since I last posted I’ve written about a quarter of a short story. I’ve got my excuses in order though. I keep getting interrupted (and thus thrown right out of the mood) by the day job, even though I never seem to have much to do, and I’ve started decorating the living room.

The decorating is probably the main culprit and will take me most of next week to complete. I’m on holiday next week, not going anywhere, but not getting interrupted by work either, so I may fit some writing in.

On another note I am now the owner of a FitBit HR. All I know so far is that I walk as much as I always have and that I actually have a heart beat, So I’m alive then.

And I’m still waiting on a response on that short story. I notice that a lot of others (according to Diabolical Plots Grinder) submitted around the same time have been dealt with. My fingers are still crossed.