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Today we had an interesting little occurrence, as a result of which I learned some cool stuff, so I thought I’d share it.

I was out walking the dog – it was grey and rainy and miserable, and neither of us were terribly enthused about being out. However, the options being:

a) stay inside, with the dog doing wall of death round the sofas all day, stealing everything I am about to pick up and then playing chasey-chasey till told to leave it, or

b) walk in the rain and then have a quiet afternoon while he snoozes it off,

it’s generally better to get the boots on and take him out for some sniffs. So off we went, plodding along the muddy bridle-path to the field.

Lots of dogs and horses go along the bridle path (and sometimes deer too). The Luxury Lurcher (for it was he) filled that long, elegant snout with all the sniffs and left his own peemail behind to update the local dogs on his general state of health and what he had for breakfast: it’s basically social media for dogs. At the corner there is a bin and while His Lordship was checking in there, I noticed a piece of litter in the grass. It was right next to the bin.

Would it have been so much extra effort to actually put it in? I thought as I picked it up; it was a small piece of paper, wet through (hopefully by rain rather than dog updates!) but looking more closely at it, I paused. It appeared to be a burnt dollar note. There were pictograms on it – it was obviously not American dollars, but some sort of Asian currency. I have no real idea who else has dollars – Hong Kong maybe? – or how much they’re worth, but the figure in the corner was $10,000. That seemed rather a lot to burn, even if a dollar is worth less than a penny, for example.

After a moment’s thought, I decided to take it home. There was more to this than appeared and I wanted to take a bit of time to consider it, but it was fragile with wet. I put the fragment in a plastic bag to protect it and so I wouldn’t lose it in my pocket. It would be easier to look closely at it once it was dry, and I had a lot of questions to answer. Where had it come from? How much was it actually worth? And why on earth had someone tried to burn it?

Where I live, there isn’t a huge Asian population, but there is near us a small concentration of people of all sorts of nationalities on a campus-based site. It’s possible that some of them may be incredibly well off as there are some very affluent areas locally… but even so, if the note was of great worth, why would you burn it? And why next to a poo bin, of all places?

If you were burning it to get rid of incriminating evidence, you’d make sure it was completely burned or at least put the remainder in the poo bin.

If you were burning a high-value note to make a point about your style and riches, why stand next to a poo bin to do it? Surely it would be better done on the terrace of a bar, and then extinguished in a glass of vintage champagne? 🙂

It was a nice little mystery; none of it made much in the way of sense and I was intrigued. So once home, I dried it out and then laid it out for a closer look.

This is what I had picked up:

The obvious next step was to see what I could find on the internet, so I cracked open the computer and went to commune with the wisdom of the ancients (hey, Google dates back to 1998 and as my nieces consider that positively ancient!)

All I had to go on was the figure of $10,000 and the name “Yin Lo-” on the back, but being of an enquiring and determined type (*cough*nosey*cough*) I mustered up my Google ninja-ing skills and sallied forth into cyberspace. Sure enough, Google had the answers (as always) in a combo of pages from Wikipedia and a journalist called Paul Slade. So let me tell you what it was that I had retrieved…

According to journalist Paul Slade in his article Satan’s Own Bankers: Chinese Hell Money, the fragment in my possession was part of a “Hell note” – also known as “ghost money”.

So what is Hell money?

Wikipedia says:

In traditional Chinese belief, [the underworld] is thought to be where the souls of the dead are first judged by the Lord of the Earthly Court, Yan Wang. After this particular judgement, they are either escorted to heaven or sent into the maze of underworld levels and chambers to atone for their sins. People believe that even in the Earthly Court, spirits need to use money.

The word ‘hell’ is supposed to be a misunderstanding brought about (when is it not??) by Christian missionaries who told early converts that all Chinese people were going to hell; this was understood to mean the afterlife generally.

The word hell on hell bank notes refers to Diyu (simplified Chinese: 地狱; traditional Chinese: 地獄; pinyin: dìyù, “underworld prison”; also 地府, dìfǔ, “underworld court”). These words are printed on some notes.

They can be used as part of the mourning process, but are also a way to ask favours from ancestors or to send respect to them on anniversaries or dates of significance.They are loosely piled in burners (or more recently in a chalk circle drawn on the ground between residential houses) and burned to send them to the afterlife.

According to Wikipedia:

Modern Hell bank notes are known for their large denominations, ranging from $10,000 to several billions. The obverse usually bears an effigy of the Jade Emperor, the presiding monarch of heaven in Taoism; his signature, romanised as Yu Wong or Yuk Wong; and the countersignature of Yanluo, King of Hell (閻羅). There is usually an image of the Bank of Hell on the reverse of the notes.

A commonly sold Hell bank note is the $10,000 note that is styled after the old United States Federal Reserve Note. The obverse contains, apart from the portrait of the Jade Emperor, the seal of the Bank of Hell consisting of a picture of the bank itself. Many tiny, faint “Hell Bank Note”s are scattered on the back in yellow. These are sold in packs of 50 to 150, and are wrapped in cellophane.”

The fragment I picked up would have been part of one of these, and the entire note would have looked like something like this, though it’s obviously not the actual same one (image is from Paul Slane’s article):

So this all answers a lot of questions.

If the fragment I found was part of a pile of fifty others and it was burned in an area between residential houses, the likelihood is that it originated on campus, and the updraft carried it into the air and across the fields to settle by the path where I found it, in somewhat unfortunate vicinity to the poo bin. It isn’t evidence of dodgy doings, nor a somewhat bodged attempt to show off – it’s a little fluttering piece of someone’s grief come to rest temporarily.

Now retrieved and dried out, the question is what to do with it.

According to Paul Slade, the practice is mostly important to the older members of the Chinese community, and younger ones do it in honour of their older relatives because it was important to them; perhaps this is a mourning note for someone’s parent or grandparent. Often it would be done at the grave, so perhaps this is someone who could not get to the grave, but still wanted to show their respects.

It’s an interesting thing to have, but tempting as it is to keep it, I can’t find it in me to do so. If this is a part of someone’s grieving process, it wouldn’t be right. I’m glad it didn’t end up rotting beside the poo bin. If that had been a ritual I had done for my Dad when we lost him a couple of years back, I wouldn’t have liked to think it had ended up being trodden into the mud there. But then what?

I’m not going to just put it in the bin, even if the mourner will never know. Grief is sacred, regardless of whether anyone’s watching – and who am I to say that no-one is? The world is full of mysteries. But it’s more that there is a universality of grief. Sooner or later, all of us will lose someone we love, and it’s hard, hard. It makes me want to do right by the unknown mourner, for no other reason than that it’s a thing I can do. So in that spirit, once the rain stops, I’ll go outside, set fire to the last part of the note, and send it up in smoke to complete its journey, whatever that may be.

After all, I am at least a little indebted to the mourner.

Though the note wasn’t really worth ten thousand dollars (at least not in this world!), it afforded me a few hours of interesting research, and left me the richer for an intriguing glimpse into the traditions of another culture. There is a Chinese proverb that suggests, “Learning is a treasure you carry with you always.”

And that is always a bright currency.

Have a lovely weekend:

JAC.

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Interesting article on Hopepunk

http://corabuhlert.com/2019/01/17/science-fiction-is-dying-again-the-hopepunk-edition/

There have been some interesting reactions to the definitions of hopepunk as a genre.

I think this sums things up nicely.

On Costa, and hospitals, and Sanctuary.

They’ve just put a Costa in our local hospital.

We go to the hospital quite a lot because of my OH’s various ailments. The coffee in the hospital is awful – utterly tasteless and horrible so you may imagine how pleased we were to see that Costa had opened there.

Why?

Firstly because we both love a decent coffee, of course, and Costa’s not superb but it’s consistently decent. Dependable, you might say.

Secondly because when you are in a place like a hospital where everything is uncertain and nothing is within your power, you gravitate to the familiar. In Costa you know what you’re getting, you know you’re going to enjoy it, and you can have your usual favourite. It’s a dose of normality when you need it.

Costa isn’t sterile and clinical like the the hospital, it doesn’t smell of disinfectant and promote the use of hand gel in case you have a mysterious flesh eating virus; it smells all dark and rich with coffee beans. It has comfy chairs, and it looks the same as the High Street Costa you stop in for a chat and a cake with your family while shopping. It’s familiar, comforting, a refuge. And it makes it easier to go to the hospital.

Waiting for test results is easier in familiar territory. Being nervous or worried is more manageable. It gets so that you go to that hospital Costa not because you want coffee or cake, but because it makes you feel more able to manage what waits outside. That’s pretty powerful, and honestly, it’s a bit of a gift. It makes our lives easier.

To a certain extent, that’s what I’m trying to do with my stories.

We seem to be living in dark times right now. Everywhere you look, something terrible is happening. The news is rife with disasters, tragedy, stupid political decisions that will have all sorts of impact on real people’s lives. You hear of people in all sorts of terrible situations, all sorts of cruelty and hardship and hopelessness, and it’s very difficult to resist despairing of it all.

But actually, resisting it is what we need to do.

It’s not easy. You have to go out of your way to find the good stuff, but know what? It’s there. There’s a quote from Mr Rogers that says that when he was scared as a kid, his mother used to tell him to look for the helpers. I love this, and it’s true.

You can’t be blinkered about world events – you can’t ignore them, but you can choose carefully the aspects about them you pass on. If all we can do is highlight the pictures of everyone charging over to help, regardless of age or race or religion, even that is a little blow for the cause of hope.

And it is becoming clear to me that hope is something we need to fight for. In this day and age hope is becoming rare and precious; anything that keeps that spark alive, it’s worth doing.

For me, my stories are part of that. I try to be realistic in my view of humanity, so in my books dark events do occur and times can be bad, but always there is faith and hope and the determination to make things better, at least a little bit.

Sometimes things can be fixed; sometimes they really can’t, but often they can be ameliorated a bit, or made more bearable. If you can’t help all of the people, sometimes you can help one.

But that sort of fight is exhausting, whether in real life or fiction. We can’t fight all the time. No-one can. We get exhausted, and we need somewhere to go where we can recharge for a while, just to get our breath back, and our emotional reserves, and our determination.

For that we need a safe place, a refuge. We need to be reminded that, as Samwise Gamgee says, “there are good things in the world, and that they are worth fighting for.” We need to find hope, and the will to persist.

And that is why we need stories.

Stories where two hobbits cross a continent and save the world simply by persistence and faith, even if things can never be the same again for anyone afterwards.

Stories of a person who roams the galaxy in a police-box, who has to let go of the people he/she loves every time he/she regenerates, but still cannot resist the urge to help every new person he/she meets.

Stories that tell us that we can make a difference, even when it feels as if we are powerless.

Stories are our sanctuary, and if ever we needed a sanctuary, that time is now.

Find your story. Find your sanctuary. Find your feet.

And believe in hope, because like the helpers, it is always there.

Take care of yourselves – and each other.

JAC.

Wow. Enter July, stage left…

Phew! So my intention to keep up with the blog not going splendidly this year… It’s been another chocka one on the personal front, though and with limited spoons I tend to prioritise energy for

1) Real life family & friends

2) survival in the workplace

3) writing Holly 5 (currently at best part of 70k and there’s a ways to go yet)

4) very basic levels of sales maintenance and reading up on craft stuff.

5) other.

Blogging, and to a certain extent, my newsletters fall under the category of other because the blog isn’t currently very widely read and the newsletters are more advisory than gossip right now. Not least because I haven’t very much gossip (no time to do anything gossipworthy generally).

However, for anyone who isn’t a regular, since last time:

Holly 4 is now out and available for purchase at your retailer of choice.

Here’s the cover:

Fab, no? I’m not really doing a big publicity push on that till H5 is more nearly done though as the story kind of comes to a stopping place but is continued in Book 5 and a lot of readers hate to wait.

Why do it? Tbh it wasn’t planned but I can explain it in two words:

UNRULY CHARACTERS.

As ever. (Regulars have stopped even putting on a surprised face at that.) Sarnell was supposed to be a walk on character but he kind of got tangled up in the plot and, well… you know how it goes. He’s with Holly on the cover of H5 now, and not going away any time soon.

In the meantime my dictation program has died so I’m trying to get them to fix that whilst checking out another transcription programme. That one’s more designed for podcasts and meetings so I’m still working out whether it’s better than just typing. Not convinced but at least it means the audio files I had already done were not lost, even if they need a huge amount of tidying up.

And now it’s July and we’re heading for 20Books Edinburgh, which I am very excited about. Much prep is ensuing! I wanted to get H5 out before then but with the way the day-job is bleeding into my own time right now, this is looking less and less likely. Still, if frustrating it should hopefully mean that I can use it as a testbed for anything relevant I learn. Sigh! Bloody day job.

Anyhow. Trying to start waking up the backlist and polishing up metadata (so it shows in relevant searches) and categories (ditto) in advance of this final bit being done but as ever, it’s a matter of time, spoons, and life not playing silly-buggers. All you can do really is keep showing up and keep writing the words.

Or, I suppose, keep climbing the mountain, one step at a time….

Righty. Back to it then. There’s twenty minutes before I need to take the dog out & make tea, and that’s got to be good for a scene or two. Onwards & upwards!

Take care, all!

JAC.

Watch for Holly 4….

So! A brief catch up.

Since the last post I have been to Sign Club again (fun!) and a Deaf Awareness day at work (v interesting). I also decided to try something new and exercise-ish in the form of aerial hoop, which is not dissimilar to static trapeze but on a suspended hoop instead. Turns out you need lots of upper body strength for that.

I have no upper body strength at all (which is kind of the point), so probably just as well I’m only doing it every second week, alternating with Sign! Gives me a chance to be able to get past the frankly impressive levels of stiffness involved. The nice thing is that being twenty years older and probably four stone heavier than most of the lithe young things there, I am in no way going to be anything but a lot slower and less good than them (not at this level of fitness anyhow) so I feel precisely zero urge to keep up. We take turns: they do the next move and the one after that, and I keep working on the first one.

I’ll get there eventually of course, and the stiffness tells me it’s working exactly the muscles I wanted to shape up, so I’m happy as a slightly unco-ordinated clam…😏 And glad I didn’t try this at an age where being far and away the bottom of the class would have made me feel crappy. Bonus about getting older: I am far less likely to give a damn unless I accidentally hurt someone’s feelings or something of the sort.

So that lot is one day a week. As for the other six…..

Writing:

It’s all hotting up now! Holly 4 is in the last throes of edits and about to go out to betas. I’ve recut so it should come in somewhere around 40k words. Also, Wes has done another of his fabulous covers, which I can’t wait to show you!

Release date tbc but probably mid-March. And then it’s on to editing Holly 5, which is already written….

So as ever, it’s all go at the gasworks. Watch this space for confirmation of the release date and cover reveal!

More information as I have it….

🙂

JAC.

The first rule of Sign Club….

Hey all.

So here’s a thing. It’s been hard work this last few years, for various reasons. Too many serious health issues for people I love, too many funerals, that sort of thing. All you can do is hunker down and endure, so we’ve been doing that for a while.

The thing is, you’ve got to be bit careful about that sort of thing: too much watching your footing and you forget there is a whole sky full of stars above you.

I forgot, certainly. We took the least exhausting way of getting through the day, and even the bright parts were dimmed by stress and tiredness. I felt old and drab, and my life got awfully normal. Like – mundane, commonplace normal. Not used to that, and did not appreciate it. All the sparkle seemed to have died out.

I was mucking about on Pinterest one night. Should have been in bed but I was too tired to get off the sofa and was procrastinating via the medium of looking at Avengers outtakes when I came across a quote. Can’t find it now but it suggested that each of us has our own brand of madness, and it’s important to work to maintain that spark that is uniquely our own. It made me think.

I had put the apparent attack of mundanity in my life down to being middle-aged and tired, but was it really? Or was it just that I had lost the knack of it, lost my mischief and that spark of randomness that had always kept me bobbing along? And, more importantly, did that mean it was recoverable?

Time to find out.

I decided to make time for some cool stuff that will recharge the batteries a bit. But what?

I love my writing but right now it’s in hard work mode, not exhilarating mode. I love music and singing but don’t feel I can really afford to commit more than an evening a week, which means no am dram, musicals or concerts. I’m too far out of the habit of going clubbing and haven’t that sort of energy to spend just yet. In fact, I realised, it will take a while before I stop defaulting to full recluse mode, and I’m not going to push that just yet. Burnout is a real thing for me.

However, one of the things that I’ve always wanted to do, ever since I was a kid, was learn sign language. At the time (before the Internet was widespread, I am that old!!) it wasn’t particularly easy to find information about it. These days you can find textbooks on Amazon and courses all over the place.

So, time to start learning British Sign Language (BSL).

I found a Sign Club in central London that’s open to people at all levels, so I went along. Now, having learnt a couple of other languages–I lived in Italy for a year and before that, was moderately good at German at one point–I know full well that the first thing that happens when faced with native speakers (or in this case signers) is that your brain goes completely blank and you gape like a guppy. It wears off eventually of course, but the first few times can be embarrassing!

In an effort to counteract this, I spent a fair amount of time going through my apps and textbooks. In the cafe beforehand I went through my fingerspelling till it was slick, and all the usual low level questions that you never actually use in real life.

I went into the place and various people came over to say hello. I was managing to spell my own name right four times in five, so was pretty pleased with that. A lovely girl I later realised was called Elise started signing her name to me and as I watched her fingerspelling, tremendously slowly, my brain went completely blank and translated it as “finger, finger, finger, finger, finger”.

Unhelpful, brain.

I clearly looked baffled so she tried again. This time was better: “E, L, finger, finger, finger…..hat?!” (Turned out that was the sign for crown -she was saying “like the queen”!). Fortunately at that point a girl I had spoken to on the way in told her it was my first time there, . (Of course, I could have tried just speaking – Elise would have been perfectly able to lip read me, but brainstall did now allow me to think of that till halfway home!)

Many of the hearing people there were studying the BSL courses at Level 2 or 3, and there were a couple on Level 1. In a flash of inspiration I signed “I only know a tiny bit of sign. Level zero.” They laughed and I was quite pleased about that until it occurred to me that while I probably had said Level Zero, it was equally possible I had just told them I had a flat arsehole. I did look this up when I got home but my dictionary is oddly silent on swear words, so it remains to be seen….

In fact, my friend who was there had just as little knowledge as I. We ended up practicing low level vocab between ourselves for most of it. We did watch the conversations flying for a short while and it was exciting and exhilarating- but it felt a bit like eavesdropping, and we didn’t want to be rude so we signed to each other a bit instead.

In any case, it was less of a car crash than expected given the inevitable stage fright, and having that feeling of absolutely not knowing how to communicate makes the point that that’s why I’m learning. Everyone should be able to be understood, at least to a small extent, in their own country.

So I’m thinking now that I might alternate visits to Sign club with weeks where I just concentrate on learning as much as possible While I’m waiting for the next course to start. In the meantime there may be room on the alternate weeks for a dance class, and I have ideas on that front too. 🙂

So although it’s only been one week, I do genuinely feel a bit reinvigorated, just from doing something a little bit extraordinary. Hurrah!

Still need to get on with editing Holly 4, as the next few stories are written and stacked ready for publication, but you never know. This might just be the year where things get simpler. Who knows?

🙂

In the meantime, if British Sign Language is something that you’d like to know more about, you can find out about it here:

https://bda.org.uk/help-resources/

Watch some signed tv here:

https://www.bslzone.co.uk/watch/

Any questions, feel free to ask!

Take care, and catch you soon:

JAC.

So this happened over Christmas- the #chickenlizard post….

Over Christmas, my Mum decided she wanted us to make a recipe from a Tudor recipe book. We did, and it looked pretty cool so I put it on Facebook.

By popular request, here’s the post for those not on FB! Though actually so far the comments have been good fun (and no-one’s called anyone a Nazi yet, which is pretty good going!)

Post follows…..

= = = =

So in a bizarre and macabre twist, Mum decided that all she wanted for Christmas was a chicken lizard.

This being a mediaeval recipe where you bone two chickens, roll them together and fashion a lizard.

Because reasons.

Well.

Santa has been kind this year.

Progress pics follow.

You have been warned….

😱

*******************

Edit:

For those wanting the recipe, it goes something like this….

Start with two chickens.

Take off the legs and bone them -apart from the wings (take off the wing tips though)

Sew them breast to breast and wodge a load of stuffing inside (we mixed sausagemeat in it).

Roll the resultant Frankenchicken together over the stuffing – we tied it shut along the length with string.

Line a roasting tin with streaky bacon and put the Frankenchicken on it.

Cook as you would a normal, fairly densely stuffed chicken.

Make tail and neck out of stuffing and cook that.

To lizardify:

When it’s all cooled, dry off the surface of the Frankenchicken.

Assemble the tail and neck and cut a head out of the end of a cucumber (you’ll prob need cocktail sticks to pin it on).

Slice cucumber as thinly as you can (we blanched it for a minute or so to make it floppy).

Spread the Frankenchicken with cream cheese -Philadelphia or similar.

Add the blanched cucumber “scales”, feet cut from peppers, back ridge is artichoke in the recipe but we just used olives. And we made a big nasty tongue from a purple carrot.

And there you go! Tell the kids it’s iguana and you’ll freak them out for years!

This is actually based on a Tudor recipe for the top tables. The Lords and Ladies would have had this weird stuff, the run of the mill types would just have had normal chicken.

And how did it taste?

In actual fact it was nice and moist but a bit tasteless. Another time I might use a more interesting stuffing, possibly with caramelised onions, mushrooms, possibly bacon/ garlic/ chili or other spices. Failing that, using salt and pepper Boursin instead of Philly would have added slightly to it, but I quite like the idea of marinading the chicken first. Fajita spice would be epic! But I do love fajitas…

Anyhow, my Mum was very pleased, so it was a good job jobbed.

And in all fairness, not the usual humdrum Christmas dinner…!

#chickenlizard #frankenchicken #hohoho #christmasdinner #tudorrecipes

If you want to have a go, it’s pretty easy but we’re going to need your pics below… it’s a lizard-off!!

😂😂😂

All the best:

JAC.

Holly Forgotten has gone live and is now available for sale at your retailer of choice, holly_text_by_wesley_souza-dcnm0cmhurrah!

First reviews are coming in and it’s looking promising….which is nice.

Starting editing on the fourth book in the series, Holly Awakened, now – the lovely Wes Sousa is working on the cover as we speak, and having seen the initial versions, it’s going to be splendid. Rah!

Scarred artisan-les_ebook

And a giveaway….

Also, to celebrate the release I am doing a paperback giveaway.

The newly-recovered short story The Scarred Artisan (also available for purchase) came with a print cover so although it’s only forty pages long, I did a paperback copy and it’s the sweetest thing! Super for stocking fillers, I may say, and if you want a signed one, you could win it from the giveaway.

Enter here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

and good luck!

More soon:

JAC.

Hiya peeps;

a bit overdue with a blog again, but that’s because I have been;
a) busy
b) laid out on the sofa because I put my back out again.

Work of course is always mad and unforgiving, but happily right now I am very busy with writing. I am working on book 3 of the Sprig of Holly series, which is due to release next week on 1 December.

I am really pleased with the way this story has gone, and I’m busy lining up ARC reviews for it at the moment so if you would like to review it and can commit to leaving a review on 1 December or within a couple of days of that, bring me a comment below and I will add you to the list!

In addition to that, Holly 4 has gone through its first draft and is going into editing. I say it’s going into editing, but that is a little imprecise as technically at the moment I am in contact with the talented Wes Souza to get the next cover done.

Watch this space for details of the reveal!

Holly 4 is going live to preorder, hopefully in time for the release of Holly 3. The story is getting a little bit more twisty and complicated as things start going wrong in the mountains, so I am hopeful that you will enjoy the ride as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

And then there’s Holly 5… Phew! I can hardly wait to introduce you to the next set of characters! I can hardly wait to see Wes’s cover, come to that, but I can’t say much about it because spoilers… 🙂

In any case, it’s always heartening to have a new release, even if it’s only a short story – and the fact that the rest of the Holly series is already written out in at least initial draft is very pleasing.
Working on a little bit of marketing for the release but not huge amounts just yet as with three short stories in a line it’s not really going to get much traction until we have the whole series up. That’s also nice because it takes the pressure off me a little bit. Sadly it also means I’m writing the series at a bit of a loss, but that’s the way of it. Fingers crossed, when the end of it comes out it might start selling a bit and pay for itself.

In addition I am starting to plan out the two Dragon series. I am thinking of starting with the series – currently a trilogy – which will be known as “A Blaze of Dragons”, a group noun for dragons from a 15th century manuscript. Isn’t it cool? I love that.

In any case, I have three of the covers already lined up due to the small but not inconsiderable glitch in cover buying mentioned in earlier blogs, so I have the skeleton of a plan in place and I’m busily fleshing out the bones of it. This is the second half of my NaNoWriMo project, but in all honesty I am not bothered if I don’t make the 50,000 words this year, as a significant chunk of it was spent finishing off Holly 6 (or maybe 7, depends on how the editing pans out) and so it has done what I needed it to. I am still doing chunk of words every day just because I like adding it to the graph, but if I flag before the 30th, I’m quite chilled with what I’ve achieved already.

Looking at my back posts, it strikes me that I have now been dictating for nearly 6 months. Certainly it got a lot easier when I bought the Dragon software (and a halfway decent headset) but it’s an interestingly different way of writing.

For a start, you really do need to plan things, and I have always been a bit of a discovery writer. At first I found it difficult, but actually as time goes on, I find myself still doing the discovery writing but just in smaller chunks – inside the scene rather than plot stuff.

I think verbalising the plot instead of manually typing it is starting to come a little bit easier, and certainly while my back has been bad I have had quite a productive time because whilst lying on the settee I can simply put the headset on and dictate. It makes me feel like Barbara Cartland, only a Barbara Cartland who detests pink, doesn’t write steamy romance, isn’t 300 years old and uses far less ellipses – or at least has far less left in after the final edit! Oh, and also isn’t a millionaire. So almost exactly not like Barbara Cartland…

But it’s quite comforting because although I’d never realised that writing was quite an intense activity, dictating seems to come far more easily. The planning is dull, but the actual dictation session is getting easier every time, and hopefully the editing will become easier as my brain gets up to speed.

Certainly the dictating is getting faster which I put down to a joint effort between my brain getting used to it, and the dictation program software learning more about my accent and the way I use words. It still comes up with nonsense sometimes, and makes me laugh, but usually if it doesn’t get the right word first time, it’s on the list of suggestions.

It’s pretty impressive stuff, and I find myself wondering if in 20 years time we’ll look back on keyboards like we do now on typewriters and faxes – the sort of things where, if somebody’s still using them, it’s a bit of a surprise.

I’m starting to feel as if my writing process is becoming a bit more streamlined. My first book took 10 years to write, and subsequent books have been two or three years in the processing. This is partly because I keep writing other books but then having to cut bits out that turning to other books which is frankly a silly idea, so pinning them down and planning them out seems to keep that process under control a little bit. We shall see.

In any case, as I progress through the Dragon books I hope to ultimately end up back at On Dark Shores in such a way that I can edit it into a sensible order and reissue it along with book 3 and indeed book -1. Because I did so well in the order of writing those books…

I’m also working on editing Song down so that I can change it to its new title sooner rather than later, though the new cover won’t be ready till well into the New Year. (this one is being done by a new designer, and one I haven’t worked with before, so it’s all a bit of an unknown quantity).

So it’s all progress, albeit in tiny steps.

And as part of the Holly 3 release I will probably do some kind of giveaway with paperbacks of Scarred Artisan, if only because they are so cute and will make great stocking fillers so the timing is good to give some away!

There isn’t really much more to add today, so will stop blathering and get on with my next chunk of dictating. Just wanted to check back in and give you the latest goss!

In the meantime, have a great weekend, and Happy Thanksgiving (and indeed Joyous Wolfenoot!) for those who celebrate.
All the best;
JAC.

The trains home are always horrendously busy on a Friday night, and this Friday as the last few seats disappeared, a gentleman got on with a small boy sat in the seat opposite me.  The boy was about six and like any lively six year old on an outing, at first he was playing up, making silly noises and squealing and all sorts of kids things that kids normally do.

The father tried a variety of strategies to keep him from getting too loud despite the fact that the boy was apparently in the middle of a sugar rush after an indulgent afternoon raiding Grandma’s sweetie bowl, and eventually hit on the expedient of telling a story.

This being met with some enthusiasm, negotiations continued until he suggested that the little boy could dictate a story and the father would type it on his laptop, which offer was graciously accepted.

The little boy assumed a position of deep thought, and the father opened up a document and poised his hands over the keyboard. “Okay” he said, “what do you want the story to be about?”

“I will tell you.” The little boy mused for a moment longer. “Once upon a time there was a little boy called Max went and he found a cave.”

“A cave?” The father, tapping away. “What was in the cave?”

The little boy didn’t even need to think about this. “Gold. Lots of gold, and some diamonds. And also swords.”

“Armour?” The father asked. “Okay.”

“Max was very disappointed because there was only one piece of gold and only one diamond and only one piece of sword.” The little boy went on.

The father looked up. “No, you say there was lots of gold and lots of diamonds and lots of armour? That doesn’t make any sense.”

It does if the cave is very very small, I thought to myself, being something of a pedant.

“There was only one piece of gold,” the little boy repeated obstinately, but his father was having none.

“What if we say ‘there is some gold’?” He typed, muttering aloud “there is some gold.”

That’s a bit duff, I thought. Whose story is this anyway?

But the little boy was continuing. “There was one sword in the cave that Max really wanted. It was all made of gold with all diamonds on it.”

Don’t do it, I thought, but alas he did.

“You can’t have a sword all made of gold,” the father told him. “Gold is a very soft metal and it wouldn’t make a very good sword at all; perhaps only the hilt is made of gold.”

“What’s a hilt?” The little boy asked.

“It’s like the handle bit. And actually probably wouldn’t be made of gold either.” The man tapped away, muttering to himself “’Max’s eye was particularly caught by one sword which had a gold-plated hilt.’ There, that makes a bit more sense.”

The little boy ignored him. “Max looked at the sword. It was all gold and shiny. He wanted it very much, but he could not have it.”

“He wanted the sword, but there was a problem.” The dad typed. “Oh no, what was the problem?”

“Max looked around and realised that this cave was full of Creepers.”

“Oh? What are Creepers?”

“They are things that creep up behind you and grab you. Creepers, and also lots of Endermen.”

“Ender-men?” The father asked.

“They are like men but they’re really scary and when you go towards them they disappear and reappear in another place.” The child went on.

They’re pretty good creatures for a six year old, I thought. Let’s have a bit more about the Endermen, eh?

“So then what happened?” The father tapped away at his laptop. “Are you going to tell me what the Endermen looked like?”

“No, they’re just men.” The boy replied. “Then Max’s friend turned up. His name was Jane.”

“His name was Jane? Isn’t Jane a girl’s name?”

“No. Jane is a boy.” The little boy replied decisively. “Jane did a backflip. He was going to help Max get the sword. He could get past the Creepers and the Endermen.”

“How about ‘Jane backflipped into battle’?” The father asked.

“No.” The little boy replied. “Jane did a backflip.”

“… Backflipped into battle” the father muttered as he typed.

“He landed on his feet and hit the Creeper in the face and threw a dagger at the Enderman.”

“Cool!” the father replied. “And then?”

“The Enderman turned into a Dragon. An EnderDragon.”

“Oh, that’s unexpected! An Ender…Dragon. Okay, then what?”

“Jane got the sword. The end.”

“The end?” The dad stopped typing and looked at his son. “But that was just getting good. Why did the Enderman turn into a dragon? Did Jane fight the Dragon? And did he get the sword for Max?”

“No. The sword wasn’t for Max. It was for Jane. He fought the Enderman.”

“But Max was the one who found the cave.”

The little boy shrugged. “Max found the cave first. But Jane fought the Endermen. So he got the sword. I want to write a different story now.”

“But we’ve got to finish that one off properly first!” the father objected.

“It is finished,” said the little boy with crushing finality and moved on.  “Are you going to tell me one now?”

“I have a better idea.” The father closed the laptop. “I will spell out the words and you will tell me what the words say. How does that sound?”

The child agreed and the father proceeded to say the spell out each registered time. Some of them were quite tricky, and the child was trying to phonetically spell out. It didn’t necessarily go well – the first word was “once” which to a child obviously should sound like “onker”, and “time” was clearly “timmy”, but the kid was actually really good.

The story was about a giant, but the boy was having some issues with the word “giant”. First he thought it was was “China” – because the father said that the G-I made a J sound rather than hard G. The little boy was very persistent that it was actually “China”, but eventually the father persuaded him not.

However the little boy was clearly seized by the spirit of mischief and every time father spelt out G-I-ANT the little boy pronounced it as “Gi-nat” despite multiple explanations.

So far so innocent – only he kept referring to “the gi-nat” that which sounds an awful lot like “vagina”.

And so the story went on about how Once upon a time there was a little giant, who was a very cross giant and the reason for this was that he was very small and as he looked round all the other giants were very large….

…only with the boy saying what sounded very much like “vagina”, each time without fail…

It got worse from there, only given that the dad had already confiscated a sweet from the kid for saying “oh my god” because that was a rude exclamation, I was pretty sure that he wasn’t doing it on purpose – only – HOW COULD HE NOT BE DOING???

The other gi-nats were very large. One had a big hairy beard and was very smelly. One was so old he was entirely bald.

And so it went on….

I’m pretty sure that some of you are thinking how childish! How immature to laugh at it! and in all honesty I can’t disagree. The problem was that this is the sort of thing that with repetition becomes funnier and funnier anyway.

Factor in that we were in an enclosed space where you are supposed to be pretending not to listen, and the hilarity factor goes up tenfold. The only way it could have actually been funnier would have been if we were in church, which always aces every other situation when you shouldn’t laugh. But this was a cracker.

And it went on and on and on….

By the end of the five-minute story, I’d be surprised if there was anyone within earshot who wasn’t sniggering. Certainly the four people that I could see at the table opposite were all struggling very hard to maintain a straight face. We were at my stop by then, and so I had to leave which is probably just as well, but it amused me very much.

I did feel a bit sorry that the dad had felt it necessary to rewrite the kid’s original story though. On one level, I could see that the dad thought he was teaching his son a better use of English, and perhaps he was right. I have no children so am perhaps not a good person to judge these things, but my view is that when kids are six, their stories don’t make sense or have good English and the way they misuse the language can be really interesting if not funny.

Case in point: recently I found some stories and poems that my nieces wrote for me when they were that sort of age and the charm of them lies in the six-ness of it. The bits that you treasure are actually the randomness and the kid-logic, both in spelling and storyline. You don’t treasure them because they’re written in proper English. That’s twenty years too early.

But I absolutely loved that little boy’s inventiveness, and his baddies were super. In all honesty, if I had had the chance to pause by their seat I would have told him so on the way out – but as is the way with trains, everybody queued up and when it was time to get off the train I had to shuffle straight past.

By then they were in the middle of the next story from the little boy. I may be wrong but it sounded to be about a cow called Harold…

At any rate it made me smile, and I still think the Endermen and the Creepers are totally superb bad guys. If only he remembers them for about twenty years and then writes the damn book! I’d quite like to know what happened next!! Definitely one of my better commutes, that one, and sent me into the weekend with a good old giggle which was lovely. So I thought you lot probably needed to share that one.

So now it’s your turn – what is your most embarrassing kid-related story? I’m sure those of you with kids have plenty…

In other news:

Holly 3 continues towards its release – it is now available on preorder for anyone who is interested – and Scarred Artisan is now available in a teeny tiny paperback which is actually quite lovely, so if any of you are looking for a 37 page stocking filler for people who just like a sweet little fairy story, you can find it here.

Alternatively, if you fancy reviewing it, contact me for a review copy. All feedback gratefully appreciated!

So that’s it from me. Have a lovely weekend, guys, and take care of yourselves.

🙂

All the best;

JAC.