Thursday, 16 July 2020

Daily Sketches and Annoying Hoops

My work - this week we began having to undergo weekly COVID 19 tests. Yes, that horse had bolted so long ago it is now lost beyond the horizon. At least I don't have to hike to Bidston train station again for these, as we're using self-administered tests done at work - so we're all breathing on the same office mirror while we poke a cotton bud down our gagging throats then up each rebellious nostril while the manager waits with sterile tube in hand in which to dunk it, and the admin lady rattles away on the computer to log each test. Results are sent to each tested person (and place of work) via text, and the NHS log site assumes everyone has a mobile phone and makes no allowance for those like me who don't. So my results get texted to work, then work emails them on to me - so much for data security!

Speaking of daftness, Richard tried to make an appointment to see our doctor. As the surgery is just around the corner and as he was passing it anyway he decided to walk in. The receptionist told him this wasn't allowed and that all appointments have to be made online now. What if a person hasn't got access this way? Apparently, this is too bad; no alternative provision has been granted. "But I'm here now," he said. "Why can't you  just look at your computer and book me in directly?" This, apparently, is too simple. Hoops have been invented and we are now obliged to jump through them.

So, I went online on my PC, got to the medical centre's website which has a Big Red Warning on it about this new requirement. Okay, so there was also a preliminary stage to pass through which asks people to look up their query via a Q&A process - only it had nothing about diabetes in its A-Z list of ailments, or anything about a diabetes/medication annual review, which is what he wants. The robotic computer response advice was to phone 111 - not really relevant. So then, below all this, there was a small Book Your Appointment button - click to that page, only it won't load; all I get is a Page Unavailable sign. Tried several times, no joy.

Anyway, I mentioned this palaver to a colleague who said he'd had a similar run around. He'd ended up going into a Walk-In Centre in order to get antibiotics for the infection which was happily tracing dark lines up his leg from the knee surgery he'd had last year. So next time you hear the NHS whining about the amount of people who keep turning up needlessly at A&E, now you know why!

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Free Books!

Until the end of this month my books will be on sale.

Read the first novel in the Artisan-Sorcerer series, Tamsin, for FREE.

Other books are FREE too, and others have been hugely discounted.

This is just my little contribution to those many people who are on lockdown at home while this awful coronavirus/COVID 19 rages around the globe. Or, if you're a keyworker like me, still going to work every day despite the virus, then you might enjoy reading something that's new to you.

This offer is only available via Smashwords. Here's the link:

You're invited to make the most of these bargains. Then, after you've read them, you could help by posting reviews either on Smashwords or anywhere else online. Reviews are really important to find new readers, so I'd appreciate it if you'd take the time to write a few lines of honest review.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Contrary Flowers

Bee, Happy; watercolour; May 2020.
When we moved here five years ago I sprinkled some poppy seeds, poppies being one of my favourite flowers. Typically, the poppies did not grow where I'd cast the seeds. They migrated to the opposite side of the garden where, rather than thrive in the sensible flower bed chosen for them, they opted to cling precariously onto life by plunging their delicate roots between the foundations of a brick wall and a concrete path. Every year they've come up more plentiful so they must like it there. Besides, they enliven an otherwise boring wall.

Flowers aren't my go-to choice of subject, as regular readers of this blog will know. However, there they were, bobbing in the spring breeze and looking gorgeous. So I thought why not give it a go? And here's the result, which I've called Bee, Happy. The painting is on A3 Daler Rowney Aquafine, cold pressed, 300lbs, and I've used a combination of Daler Rowney watercolours with Winsor & Newton. Brushes are my usual Royal & Langnickel, a brand I highly recommend.

I'd not intended to include a bee but there were several buzzing around, wriggling into the flowers and emerging with pollen-stuffed jodhpurs, so one ended up in the painting. And then I had another idea....

A Dance of Granny's Bonnets; watercolour; May 2020.
Self-seeding to the point that I have to weed some out each year before the patio becomes impassible, these purple and white aquilegia, or granny's bonnets or columbine - they have multiple names - are looking gorgeous at the moment. These too are humming with a battalion of busy bees which visit from dawn till dusk. And as you can see for yourself, I had a go at painting these too.

Materials and size are as for its companion painting. I wanted to make use of negative space, and was very aware of being well outside my comfort zone while painting these. Richard wants me to frame them for the living room wall. I'm not so sure - but then I'm my own fiercest critic anyway. What do you think of these two watercolours?

Here are the originals in our garden, photographed just this afternoon.

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Sketching, Key Workers and Dragons.

Here are March's efforts for my one-sketch-per-day project, now presented as a short video. Do let me know what you think, or if you've any suggestions or ideas.

Actually, the hyacinth you see in one of the watercolour sketches here has now finished flowering so I've planted it in the garden. Hopefully it will come up again next year. It was in our living room, where it filled the air with its delicious, heady perfume.

We're living in strange times, hmm? The news is laden with tragic death counts and infection rates and tales of life under the shadow of the coronavirus/COVID 19. The restaurant where my husband works is closed and this is his third week at home. So far he's weeded the garden, washed down all the windows inside and out, spring-cleaned the house and finished reading the entire series of graphic novels of the X-Men. At the time of typing this, he's just come back from walking the dogs and is now listening to Scala Radio while reading a Derek Landy novel.

I've been doing my part-time job as usual as my role is that of an Activity Co-ordinator in a care home. As such I'm classed as a key worker, one of the few thousand people who are still allowed, indeed expected, to continue going into work. Suddenly we're vital workers! But instead of giving us all a round of applause each Thursday at 8pm, how about doing something genuinely useful and campaigning on our behalf for a decent pay rise? 

Smokin' Dragon, issue #7, August 1993.

Around a million years ago, I launched a homespun publishing project which evolved into a quarterly music zine called Smokin' Dragon. It featured masses of interviews with emerging bands, demo and gig reviews, plus poetry, pen pal listings and serious articles on diverse subjects. The project ran for several years and was a lot of fun to do. The phone would ring at bizarre hours and I'd never know who might be on the end of it. Torrents of cassette tapes would clatter through my letter box, some good and some terrible, but all conveying the precious dreams of those who had recorded them.

Whatever happened to all those bands whose names are already forgotten by almost everyone? Are any of them still around? Do any of their members now play with other bands, or has life buried their dreams under necessities such as jobs, paying mortgages, raising children, etc? Your guess is as good as mine.

Anyway, I decided to create an archive for Smokin' Dragon, and now you can read about the first seven issues. Read it here.

A second installment will follow shortly.

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Art Gallery #6: Video Slideshow

Here is a video slideshow of my paintings and drawings from last year. I hope you enjoy looking through this collection of watercolours, oils and drawings, plus a few related photos.

So other than making a few videos, what have I been doing? Since Xmas the life drawing group which I attend has been suspended due to the organiser's ill health, but to keep drawing regularly I began a new daily sketch project. It's been fun to turn these into little slideshow videos which you can see in posts below or on YouTube. Do subscribe to my channel there, as more videos will be posted regularly and there are already over 70.

Last Wednesday saw me enjoying lunch in Southport with my sister Evelyn. We had a slow amble round the shops and between us bought absolutely nothing, excluding the utterly gorgeous orange and chocolate cake from a cafe in the Wayfarers Arcade. The arcade itself is a genuinely beautiful Grade II listed building with a lovely arching glass roof and ornate mahogany shop fronts which remain unchanged since Victorian times. The sad thing is that almost all the shop units stand empty. I have to wonder what the future holds for this genuinely elegant arcade which seems likely to become another victim of greedy rents and rates combined with a deflated economy and the changing face of high streets.

Britain is now teetering on the brink of the Corona virus outbreak. Some people seem certain this is a diarrhea virus rather than a flu virus, hence reports of panicked purchasing of loo rolls the world over.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that ordinary, everyday flu caused between 9 million and 45 million illnesses, between 140,000 and 810,000 hospital stays, and between 12,000 and 61,000 deaths annually since 2010 - and these figures are only for America, never mind the rest of the world!

Really, just chill out, enjoy some more orange and chocolate cake, and for goodness sake wash your hands properly.

Daily Sketches Project: February 2020

I have decided to present this on-going one-sketch-per-day project as a monthly video slideshow rather than as a picture-by-picture blog post as it's simply quicker this way.

Can I encourage you to subscribe to my YouTube channel? There're over 70 of my videos there already and I plan to add to these.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

This Writing Life

According to this article, in 2019 just 26% of under-18s spent some time each day reading, and only  53% said they read books purely for pleasure. This is the lowest level recorded by the National Literacy Trust since 2005.

Elsewhere in The Guardian, it was reported that, "According to a 2018 Author’s Guild Study the median income of all published authors for all writing related activity was $6,080 in 2017, down from $10,500 in 2009; while the median income for all published authors based solely on book-related activities went from $3,900 to $3,100, down 21%. Roughly 25% of authors earned $0 in income in 2017."

As I've written previously, all writers have experienced a steady decline in book sales. There is so much free reading available online, including free books by the thousands just waiting to be downloaded. Consequently most writers, including traditionally published writers with established reputations and fan-bases, hold down conventional jobs as well. If they can manage with just a part-time job, they're doing better than many.

As the writer of the piece about young reading habits pointed out in her article, lots of writers gloss over this reality. Can you make a living solely from being a writer? Yes, if you're a  millionaire already, or someone else pays the bills, and you have no children or other dependents, and have paid off your mortgage, or you're receiving a retirement pension and therefore can describe yourself as  a full-time writer. Actually, I know quite a number of writers who fall into that last category!

So what can be done about it?

As a parent, you can buy your children books for presents, enroll them in your local library, and sit with them and read stories together; all simple ideas to help foster a lifelong interest which will contribute hugely to your child's cultural experience and appreciation.

As a reader, you can take a chance on buying an author whose name is new to you. (See the side column for clickable links to outlets for my published books.)

As a writer you can choose to live in abject penury or you can get a job.

Or you could stop writing altogether, which is what some traditionally published people have done after balancing the huge amount of time and effort required against financial gain, then asking themselves if it's worth the bother. Truly, if you imagine you'll write a few novels then live comfortably, you're only displaying how little you know about how the publishing industry works.

The publishers of those glossy novels in the bookshop window have paid for them to be  positioned there. Likewise with the books on the eye-catching stand just inside the shop door. The books on the ordinary shelves have also paid for their placement - and most novels get only two weeks to sell before being returned to the publisher's distributor to be pulped.

And then, because your masterpiece has already been published, another publisher is unlikely to be interested in it.  And by the way, those paid-for placements come out of your profits, assuming you actually make any.

So first you write  your book, which can take a year or ten depending on your other commitments and how fast you write, and then you enter the usually long-winded process of finding an agent and a publisher, then go through the editorial process (which can take another year), and after all that you get two weeks in which to sell enough to have a second novel even considered. Low sales mean cancelled contracts, and if your contract has been cancelled then finding a new contract with a new publisher can be tougher than finding one the first time around.

So now you know why so many previously traditionally-published authors now self-publish! A new self-published book release might be akin to another stalk of hay added to a planet-sized haystack, but at least it has a long-term lifespan. Besides, these-days even traditionally pushed authors have to do much of the promotion themselves anyway, so there's little difference on that score.

Writing is a choice. A person can easily choose to do something else instead, or to do something as well.

Some of the most interesting writers I know have more than one creative outlet, and hold down a regular job too. They paint, perform in bands, do gardening, create textiles, join amateur theatrical societies, etc.; whatever their outlet happens to be, they do that too.

And on that thought, I'm off to sketch in the park!