Storm Arwen

As seen from the landing window (what the hell is all that?) at 7am on a Saturday morning. So much for a lie in. At first I thought the roof had come off the house (it was early and everything was a bit blurry), then I realised the roof wasn’t plastic.

A load of plastic sheets decided they no longer wanted to be in next door’s garden and threw themselves all over mine instead. A couple even managed to wedge themselves in the tree behind the polytunnel.

Storm Arwen has been and gone. Thankfully I haven’t seen the level of damage that some have in the past week or so, just a small tear in the polytunnel, quickly patched with repair tape, and my electricty is still on. I’m really not sure how some of those sheets didn’t cut right through the polytunnel though.

Anyway, they’re back next door now and, amazingly, none of it put the chickens off laying.

Update, rude magazines and annoying banks.

I know, it’s been a while again, but it’s summer. The plot is in full growth, the sun is high, and very hot most of the time and it’s all very busy.

I have onions, potatoes and courgettes coming out of my ears. I have been almost living on salad and raspberries they have done so well. The polytunnel is full of lettuce and this year, for a change, the aubergines actually have flowers on them. With all the eggs the chooks are laying, rhubarb and custard is high on the menu along with poached eggs, one of my favourites.

I should be skinny by now, but I’m not.

I’ve also been writing and editing a lot. I have a story in the first edit phase, a couple waiting to be polished and the outlines of a couple more. I just need this relentless heat to give up so I can sit and write without dripping all over the keyboard.

Anyway, onto the traditional moaning, it wouldn’t be a proper blog post without a good moan.

First moan, magazines who don’t communicate. I submitted a story to a certain magazine, which will remain nameless, back in May. Their Grinder page didn’t raise any flags for me, save for a 4% withdrawal rate, but I started to get a niggling feeling when they didn’t even confirm receipt. Still, it’s a pretty short story that has already been out a few times, so I left it a while. Their guidelines said to query after six weeks, I left it eight. I got an auto response telling me to wait at least six weeks. I tried again a few weeks later only to get the same response. I messaged them via their website, just in case their auto responder was messed up and got no reply at all. So I withdrew my submission, on the assumption that there was no one there to read it anyway, and got the original auto response.

That story is now waiting in someone else’s slush pile, and they did confirm receipt. The first magazine has been put on my ignore list and noted as unprofessional and unresponsive. I followed their guidelines, they should do the same.

Second moan, banks. Or my bank to be precise and this time I will name them, Virgin Money. They used to be Yorkshire Bank (I think they still are underneath, but outwardly they are Virgin). This is all about their paperless policy, or saving trees as many companies put it. I set mine to off, on both my accounts, as I want paper statements (go through a messy divorce and you’ll be paranoid about having all your accounts in line too). I set both accounts back to paper on their website (they defaulted it to paperless for me), but both kept resetting themselves. I contacted them via their online chat and was told that both were set to paper no matter what I was seeing on the webpage (a glitch I was told). Anyway, today I got an email telling me my paperless statement was ready. So I called them, to be told that one account was set to paper and one paperless. I asked them to switch both to paper and was told I had to go online and do it myself. I had already explained that it didn’t work, and proceeded to explain again. I asked to speak to a manager, anyone, who could help me or at least take a complaint on board (their tech team is not front facing apparently, which I think means I can’t talk to them, but the customer service people can put a request through which, if I log on regularly enough to do it myself, will be declined – how bloody helpful.)

While I was on hold waiting for a manager to speak to me I went online and checked the settings myself. They were both paperless and I changed them to paper. This time it worked. They’d fixed it, but clearly hadn’t set mine right, and didn’t bother to tell me.  The guy on the phone confirmed both were now set to paper.

I’ve been with Yorkshire Bank for around thirty five years and can’t remember when I last had to call them with a problem. Since they changed to Virgin Money I’ve called them several times. Things do get sorted out, but they’re things that shouldn’t have needed sorting out in the first place. This should all have been done the first time I complained that it wasn’t working.

As for saving trees, that’s rubbish. It’s saving the bank money by pushing their printing costs onto me. They know damn well as soon as most people download a statement they’ll print it out. It’s not saving any trees. If they really wanted to go environmentally friendly they’d use 100% recycled paper and environmentally friendly inks for everything and all cycle to work, and stop all investment into fossil fuels. Only that wouldn’t save them any money.

As for the online statement, I went to have a look and guess what, their secure message service, where they hold them, was down. “Oh yes,” I was told while still on the phone with them, “there’s a problem with that.” It’s clearly not the only one.

New Stories, new games and more books.

Ok, it’s been a while again I know, but I’ve been busy writing, honest. I’ve been working on my quarter 4 entry for Writers of the Future and I think I’ve got a good one. Then I had a flash of inspiration and wrote my first foray into sci-fi and entered that instead. It only took two days to write and just felt, well right. So now I have a spare fantasy story to send out. In fact I now have seven or eight pieces doing the rounds.

My Q2 entry for WotF got a Silver Honourable Mention, so it got the Ken Rand 10% treatment and sent straight back out again.

Anyway, now I find myself in need of an idea for the next story. So, while my brain chews up and grinds bits of grist, I’ve been playing some new games. Well, new to me at least.

Enderal: Forgotten Stories is a fan made overhaul for Skyrim, with a completely new storyline that has nothing to do with Elder Scrolls. It looks amazing and seems, to me at least, a cross between Skyrim and Elder Scrolls Online. It has a few odd quirks to the gameplay and there are quite a few cutscenes, but it’s also free (but you do need Skyrim), so give it a go.

The second is The Outer Worlds, and what gave me the inspiration for the above sci-fi short. It’s a space faring, open ended world, just the kind of thing I go for. The storyline is pretty good and some of the companions dialogue is hilarious. I got it on Steam half price.

On the gardening front, I’ve been picking lots of salad and eating most of it. The chooks are in full lay and the courgettes have started to appear en masse. It’s been warm and wet lately so the weeding is non-stop. It’s hard work. The grass doesn’t seem to ever stop growing either. Still, it keeps me fit.

I’ve also been buying books again, this time a big box of sci-fi and fantasy from Ebay.

It was father’s day the other week too so, just to add more to the to-be-read pile, the kids both got me books. I think I have about a hundred or so to read now.

One of the father’s day presents was David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet. It’s part autobiography, part environmental warning. It makes for interesting, fascinating and ultimately disturbing reading. I recommend everyone buy a copy and use it to beat some sense into the nearest politician.

Today is my birthday and guess what, I got some more books along with a personal rejection from Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

New Tumble Dryer, Stories Submitted and Veggies Growing

Yes, yes, I’m still alive. I’m still on furlough and still writing away. I’ve been busy wrapping up a few manuscripts and doing the odd bit for the day job. I’ve had just enough to do to keep me away from blogging for a bit. Anyway, I’ve found a few minutes now.

My last post was about buying a new washing machine so it makes sense to start this post with a whinge about having to fork out on a new tumble dryer. The old one not only wore it’s belt out but also the thermostat, so things were coming out roasting hot. I couldn’t change the belt as the machine was one of those designed to keep out all but madmen with chainsaws and explosives. So I bought a new one.

On those manuscripts, I’ve got four stories out for submission at the moment, with a few on hold awaiting a good editing. Since I read Ken Rand’s 10% solution I’ve been finding more and more wrong with some of my older work, so it’s being put back through the mill, so to speak.

In the garden, the chickens are laying well, so well I’m sick of eating eggs. The brassicas are ready to go out on to the plot and the tomatoes are just waiting for the weather to warm up before being stuck in the polytunnel.

The spuds have all come up, and then been nipped by late frosts, but they’ll recover. On the positive side, I’m already eating home grown lettuce.

Of Chickens and Ladybirds

Ok. We’ve had a couple of posts about writing and reading. It’s time to give the garden and allotment some attention.

In the garden, I’ve finally managed to put some summer bulbs in. I’ve also cleared and fed the polytunnel borders, ready for spring.

I’ve replaced the netting on the chicken run. The old stuff was starting to rip around the edges and the man from Defra still insists that they can’t come into contact with wild birds. It doesn’t seem to be bothering the chooks much to be honest. They’re still laying eggs faster that we can eat them. It makes for a lot of omelettes and cakes.

On the allotment, I’ve got most of the digging done. The shallots, onions and most of the spuds are in. I’ve got a little more digging to be done, but thanks to being on furlough still, there’s no particular rush.

Things are starting to wake up though. Buds are appearing on fruit trees and bushes. Even the ladybirds seem to have got out of bed.

I counted twelve, maybe one more, in that photo. That was one ivy covered fence post out of about six. That’s an awful lot of ladybirds all in one place.

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.

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.

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.