Tuesday, October 29, 2013


This is a giraffe.  Yes it is, I assure you. Look, it’s smiling.  It probably even had ears but all that’s left is the picture so I can’t be sure. But I bet it did – a giraffe without ears would be unimaginable.

This amazing construction was presented to me for my birthday twenty years ago by my grandchildren. I went wobbly at the knees, and they were beaming, and so proud. They made the cards too.  Together these formed an “Installation” as they are known in art circles, and stood splendidly on show for days before they succumbed to breezes and other destructive forces.

I was reminded of this giraffe the other day when I failed a riddle set by one of my contacts on Facebook.  If I had the right answer, fine. If not, I was was dared to change my Facebook profile picture to that of a giraffe and leave it there for three days. The consequences of not doing this were not revealed, but hey, how bad could they be? This is the riddle:

3:00 am: the doorbell rings and you wake up. Unexpected visitors. It's your parents and they are there for breakfast. You have strawberry jam, honey, wine, bread and cheese. What is the first thing you open?

Hmmm. My answer was judged to be wrong – but I demand a commission of enquiry. I submit that the “right” answer is the wrong answer because … well, for a very good reason which I can’t actually say because that would spoil the fun for everyone else. So, in the meantime, my giraffe stays here, as a fond memory.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013


This is Hoover. 

She is called Kitty at home – her home, that is.  She is an everyday sort of cat: longish fur, shortish legs, ears, a tail, a bit scruffy, round green eyes … you know the kind.

One day about sixteen years ago she appeared on our roof. She was about the size of a loosely curled fist. She squeaked, we said hello and she came in and went to sleep on AJ’s lap.  That was him conquered.  She belongs next door, but from day one she has treated both our properties as hers. Both gardens are jungly and explorable, moggy heaven, full of mysterious corners and dancing shadows.

She rules her world, and she’s the smallest one in it.  She lives with a large exuberant dog that she ignores.  She takes no nonsense from any creature on Earth, including the aged griffon who is the bravest dog in the neighbourhood.  She marches over here and stalks past my two resident furries, who let her do anything she wants. She’s always in the sunniest patch, the shadiest corner, the softest chair.

We called her Hoover because she eats anything, and can hear a tin being opened within fifty metres. She is responsible for the death of at least two baby rabbits and most of the mice around here – everyone knows because she makes a song and dance about it. She catches the occasional bird, even though they post sentries.  She is careless of rain and can usually be seen perched on roof or fence, sopping wet.  She dries herself on whatever I’m wearing.

Hoover has never been fed in this house but is always hopeful. After breakfast at home, she scoots over here wafting whatever scent her owners have hugged over her.  She still sits on my kitchen bench waiting for the single drop of milk that AJ allowed her, although he knew milk was bad for cats. No milk here now, and she complains gently when I toss her out before feeding my two.

She’s still fast, smart, can leap two metres up and into a forgotten window, and she never gives up.  She makes sorties at all hours of the day or night to hoover up stray cat biscuits or anything else she might detect.  At night she sits outside on the deck unblinking, watching me watch television. I harden my heart. The second I turn off the set and get up to go to bed it’s a race to the back door – me from the inside to snatch up left-overs before unlocking the cat-flap, and Hoover all round the house on the outside.  As always, ever hopeful.

Monday, October 14, 2013


To continue with the topic of writers getting published somehow, anyhow – there are other ways of doing it. For example there is the do-it-yourself way, and writers have taken to indie-publishing in ever-increasing numbers – more of that elsewhere. Then there is the co-operative way.

Co-operative publishing is an appealing idea. And in the digital age it’s also simple enough: a few writers get together, sort out some ground rules, create a brand and a website, and wait for customers (writers and book buyers) to find it. No staff, no warehousing, no overheads. How does it work?

First, decisions have to be made about whose books to accept. Members only? Any and all submissions, of whatever quality, without consideration of the market, the content, style, presentation? If so, then the imprint would rapidly become debased because, as any publisher can tell you, barely one submission in a hundred is good enough to publish. That way lies heartache and damaged reputations, including that of the brand, the co-operative itself. (We have to get away from the idea that just because we write something, we have a God-given right to have it published, appreciated, and paid for. That’s not how the real world works.)          

So, select and publish the best? That requires an editorial panel to filter out the one good book out of a hundred not so good. Assessing the viability of books takes expertise and experience of the trade as well as a sound understanding of the market. And it takes a lot of reading. Who has the time when they have their own writing to do?

Co-operative publishing can still be done, but I suggest that it is more likely to be successful for books that can be clearly targeted towards a specific readership: rose growers, spaniel breeders, vegetarians, mountain climbers – anyone with special interests. The advertising can be narrowly focussed and therefore effective. The market is specific and keen, even obsessed. Aficionados never have too many books about their particular interests.

General books, poetry, short stories and novels are much harder to sell. The market for fiction has many divisions and sub-divisions, and a knowledge of the current climate and trends is essential for successful promotions. Marketing involves all kinds of specialised techniques including the very basic one of presentation of the book itself. It has to attract the browsing book buyer, which at least means quality bindings, colourful jackets and eye-catching titles. Self-published books tend to look more modest and distributors and booksellers are not easily impressed.

Plunging into the general books market is therefore probably not a wise move for a co-operative venture. But I’m all for the niche groups because they offer more options in an increasingly diverse marketplace. Indie authors need indie publishers – it’s another way to go.      

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


I’ve been looking at houses. No, I don’t want to move, but time and circumstances are conspiring to make me think about the situation. My house is earthquake-damaged and is to be re-built – maybe next year – and it will be re-built to its current size and specifications. That suits me, I like it, and I’m happy here. However …

Pre-earthquakes outlook
A woman of advancing years and living alone doesn’t need a good-sized three-bedroomed house in an increasingly unmanageable garden. She doesn’t need it, but she wants it. Or more accurately she wants the feeling of it.  I am accustomed to space, light, airiness.  Three-bedroomed houses and gardens are for families – quite rightly – and people like me are expected, in due course, to move into something more suitable, such as what is known as over-sixties housing.

Dear oh dear. So depressing.  This seems to mean a standard-shaped, conventionally outfitted, two-bedroomed house that has been shrunk to hovel proportions. Most of the features are there but they are crowded into smaller spaces. The result is cramped, awkward and mean.

Myth: an old person living alone doesn’t need three bedrooms – two little ones will do, one for themselves and one for visitors.  Fact: one bedroom is enough. The second would be used so infrequently that it is wasted space. Any visitor who needed a bed could sleep on the couch but preferably in a nearby motel, or even at someone else’s place. The OP’s bedroom could then be bigger, and so could the living area.

Myth: OPs living alone need a proper kitchen. Fact: probably not. They almost certainly don’t need the full facilities of a family kitchen because most OPs don’t bother so much. Yes, they have to eat, and may indeed cook, but everything is simpler when it’s only for one. Personally – and admittedly I am rather undomesticated – I could probably manage with a kitchen-in-a-cupboard, the kind you close the doors on when you’re done. Wrap-around benches, islands and floor-to-ceiling cupboards would be unnecessary – OPs don’t have so many mugs and plates and pots and labour-saving devices to find space for.  Result – more space for living.

Myth: OPs don’t have a life. Fact: they do. And they would like to live some of it at home, in comfort and with pleasure. A large studio apartment with a generous deck beside an easy-care courtyard sounds perfect to me.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


There are book publishers, there are printers, there are hybrids (publishers who also print) – and then there are vanity presses (not to be confused with the indie scene).  It’s important that people wanting to show the world their work should understand the differences. Here, in brief, is what they all do.
Publishers consider your manuscript and accept or reject it as a commercial proposition. If they accept it, they will tidy it up, have it printed, and then publish it at their expense. They will manage the marketing and will expect the writer to co-operate with any publicity arrangements. They will offer the writer royalties – an agreed percentage of the selling price – which may be modest because publishing is an expensive business.

Printers print. That’s all they do. They print anything from business cards to cafĂ© menus to books. They will print your book. They do not check the spelling, they do not assess the manuscript for quality, they don’t care if it’s about world peace or your kitten, they just ask “how many copies?” The writer is responsible for everything else, including the crucial business of marketing and distribution.

The hybrids are publishers who operate in the traditional way, but who also make their services and expertise available to those who are willing to pay to have their work published. They ensure quality, help with advertising and distribution, they allow their imprint to be used, and they stand by the product; they don’t endorse any old rubbish.

Then there are the vanity presses.  The only people who know about vanity presses are writers – and the unfortunates who have been sucked into their webs. Those outside the industry have no reason to know about them until they write a book. Then they look for someone to publish it and fall for the tempting offers of the vanity presses.

These people offer to publish your book. They declare that they are connected to reputable publishers (which they often name). They promise world-wide distribution and unbelievable riches. They demand that you assign your copyright to them: never do this. They ask for money up-front (quite a lot) and then they “accept” the manuscript. They always accept the manuscript, whatever its quality. They ask for more money (a lot more) so that they can go ahead and print this amazing number of copies of the book from which you are sure to make a fortune.

This is a scam.

How can you refuse such fame and fortune?  Easily. Say no. To everything. Do not relinquish your copyright. Do not send any money. Do not send any more money. Do not believe a word they say.