Writers of the Future Results, Ear Infections, Covid Jabs and Xmas

I’m still here and still kicking. My head is fine, well in the mental sense anyway. Physically it is bunged up still, but getting better.

Why is it bunged up? Well, mostly due to an ear infection which has left me sleepless and in pain for a week and a half. It’s all but cleared up now, with the help of some antibiotic spray. The spray has vinegar in it as an antiseptic, so I’ve been a bit stinky for a while too. I’ve never had an ear infection before, not that I can remember anyway. My daughter used to get them all the time as a child. Now I know how much they hurt.

The infection was barely clearing up when I gat a text from my doctor to go have my Covid booster. My son was invited to make an appointment a few weeks ago but the nearest place he could go was miles away. That all changed as soon as the Prime Minister declared that they were going to get us all jabbed before January.

I must say, our NHS has done a great job in rolling out these vaccines. Within a few days vaccination centres were popping up all over. We both got them done at our GP’s clinics.

Now I’me full of cold, probably from the booster jab, along with a sore arm, but don’t let that put you off getting one. I’d rather have a cold than end up in hospital.

Anyway, the sore ear, the sore arm and the bunged up head and snotty nose have stopped me writing for a few days. I’m also back working from home so there’s all that confusion in my head about whether I’m at work or not when I sit down at the computer.

Well, my last official day working was yesterday (and I got a Xmas bonus too), so now I can sit down and crack on.

Just a quick reminder of where I’m at. Since my last post I’ve finished a short sci-fi story, submitted a couple of stories and started world building a fantasy story. I’ve had the results from Quarters 3 and 4 of The Writers of the Future competition, a straight rejection (sort of expected) and a Honourable Mention, respectively.

I’ve submitted to this year’s Quarter 1 already and the fantasy I’m world building, or perhaps the sci-fi that I’ve already done a first draft for, will be my Quarter 2. I am leaning more to the unwritten fantasy though, it feels good in my head and I’ve got plenty of time until the end of March. The world building is about a third of the way through and I’ll get a bit more done tonight. I have Xmas Eve to myself. My daughter and her fiance are taking my son out to the movies, so I’m at home alone for the best part of the evening.

I should get plenty of writing done, but I’ve been left with an awful lot of food, chocolate and alcohol.

Merry Xmas, or whatever flavour your season is (I’m an atheist, I’m just here for the twinkly lights and the booze).

Oh, and the chickens are still laying, though they do look a little oven-ready (it’s moulting time).

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.

Washing Machines and Sofas

As well as new bookcases (see earlier blog post) I was forced to buy a new washing machine the other week. The old one, at least fifteen years old, gave up the ghost in the filter department. Much like our old dog, who was also fifteen, it was dribbling from beneath and leaving puddles behind. The spin was no longer spinning properly either.

I decided to go with AO (you know, the one with the Ramones song on the advert, “Hey ho, let’s go,” or Blitzkrieg Bop if you’re old enough).

They delivered in a couple of days, which was fair enough, but it was at the back end of their delivery time estimate and was starting to feel like “Hey ho, let’s take all day about it.”

When they did arrive they got everything off the van, and I mean everything, because mine was stuck somewhere at the back. Then their faces dropped when they realised the one they thought was mine wasn’t. They’d delivered and installed mine at the previous customer’s. Not to worry I was informed, this one is a better one! It was indeed the next model up from the one I ordered but, I had to enquire, just what the person who had mine, a model down from what they had paid for, would think of it?

I contacted their customer services while they phoned home. In the end they went back to the other people and gave them the right one, the one they had ordered, and carefully wrapped mine in enough bubble wrap to refloat the Titanic.

Now it all turned out right in the end but what really annoyed me was the attitude of the delivery driver. It was just fine with him to leave the other people with something less than they’d paid for. They would have noticed at some point, I’m sure. Then someone else would have had to clean up his mess.

I got what I ordered, but I’m not sure I’d use them again.

Another thing that puts me off these companies is their policy of charging a fortune for installation. AO wanted, if I remember correctly, in the region of £50 to install a washing machine. It only needs fitting to a water pipe and plugging in! Thankfully I have the wherewithal to do that myself.

I had a similar experience when I last got a fridge freezer, only this time it was Curry’s (do they even exist anymore). They wanted £170 to install it. A hundred and seventy pounds to put in a plug. Some people must pay it otherwise it wouldn’t be there.

Now I find myself in need of another sofa. They want around £100 to take the old one away. Presumably these people think most of us are too daft or lazy to look up waste disposal on the internet. I’m not. My local council will take it away for £32. It’ll have to sit in the garden for a while until they get around to it, but I’ve got a big garden and a load of other rubbish they’ll take with it.

Now all I have to do is wait the 8-9 weeks DFS reckon it’ll take to deliver a sofa and armchair that were on clearance but, apparently, not actually in stock. Luckily they’ve just extended the furlough scheme, so I’ll probably still be sat here on the old one when they come.

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.

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.