It’s The Small Things That Matter

Good morning everyone. The theme of this week’s blog is the small things that make up most peoples lives. The little things we must do, so that the bigger things can happen.

 It is 7:45am on Sunday morning and I am writing this blog in real time. I’ve had all week to write it. Endless days – in which I could have got myself organised and written something ready to drop into your inbox early this morning – but, sadly, as we all know, it doesn’t work that way.

Why is it that the more time you have to do something, the longer it takes to do it? A simple task that would only take at most a couple of hours, assumes monumental proportions and becomes something I keep putting off. But then, I always was the queen of procrastination.

It is the end of the first full week of lockdown. In answer to your question, no, I didn’t have to go into work last Sunday. It was late last Saturday afternoon, and I still hadn’t heard from the boss what times he wanted me in the next day, so I text him. A few minutes later he phoned me to say that everyone else had been in all week basically preparing the store ready for the Christmas peak. Stock had been put out, beds rearranged, the store tidied and cleaned, and even a spot of painting had taken place. Because everyone had worked so hard there was nothing left to do, so the company had decreed that no one was to come in on the Sunday. Sounds great right? Well, yes and no. Okay, I was told not to go in, but then I was also told that meant I would either have to lose a day’s pay, work those hours as unpaid overtime, or lose a remaining day’s holiday. So… we shall see which option I have to go with when this lockdown finishes and we all go back, whenever that may be.

Miss F has also been at home in lockdown with me. I telephoned the college and spoke to the student pastoral care teacher. We spoke at length about how Miss F was coping with the stresses of coming into an environment she did not feel safe in and how that was impacting on her mental wellbeing. Eventually, we both concluded that studying at home for the duration of the lockdown was a practical solution, and then we would reassess the situation in a month’s time.

She agreed with me that whereas many students don’t deal well with online tutoring, Miss F actually thrives on it. Once the fear and panic that going into college causes has been removed, then she can relax and totally focus on her work. I have looked through her notes – they are awesome. So neat and organised and colour coded to subjects. I wonder sometimes whose child she is – because my schoolwork never looked like that!

We’ve tried it for just over a week now, and so far, it’s working out very well. Every day she vanishes into her office for four or five hours and diligently works on whatever lessons and assignments she has. I know she does miss her best friend, but every day they facetime and go over the work together, so she is still getting that interaction.

Our young lodger, Mr M, is currently doing the coursework that Miss F did last year, and he admitted to me that he is struggling with online learning, so on Friday when neither of them had any lessons I suggested to Miss F that she dig out her old notes and maybe go over them with him. She leapt at the chance and it was good to see the pair of them sitting at the table with a pile of books between them. It was a constructive use of time. It helped Miss F in that it refreshed last year’s lessons in her mind, and, of course, it helped Mr M enormously. He said afterwards that it really helped fix the information in his head going over it with her.

Speaking of Mr M, I am glad to report that he has settled in really well and already feels part of the family. He has spent a few evenings with us watching TV, and last night because I had cooked an enormous amount of pulled pork, he joined us for dinner.

I’ve only had reason to speak to him about one thing, and that is his annoying habit of leaving doors and drawers open. It’s a small thing, I know, but it really annoys me to turn into the bathroom and walk smack into his glass fronted cupboard door that he’s left open. Likewise, to fall over the dishwasher door because he’s forgotten to close it is also annoying. I hurt myself a little when I did that and exclaimed a bit crossly over it, so I think in future he’ll be remembering just to shut things behind him.

I really don’t get people who do that though. I’ve had lodgers before who’ve left things wide open all the time, then claim they just keep forgetting to shut them. What the heck…? You opened the cutlery drawer to take out a knife, just close it again, it’s not rocket science!

And as this blog has the theme of small things, we found out Mr M’s hobby this week – it’s assembling and painting those tiny toy soldiers that you buy from Warhammer. Hours and hours, he sits still at the dining room table painstakingly gluing these teeny tiny figures together, then carefully painting them. Although when we call them toy soldiers, he does get a bit purse-lipped about it.

ME:  They’re toy soldiers.

HIM: They’re not.

ME:  But they’re tiny soldiers.

HIM: Well, yes, but they’re a bit more than that.

ME:  So, when you’ve finished assembling and painting them, then what do you do with them?

HIM: I play with them.

ME:  Oka-a-a-y.

But each to their own, and as hobbies go it’s pretty non invasive – I mean, it’s not playing loud music, it’s not playing an instrument, it’s not spending hours online hogging all the WiFi – and it is kind of nice, seeing how dedicated and engrossed a person can be in something.

He is still going to the odd lesson that he has at college, but he has told us how half of the students are simply not turning up, and that the teachers have given up even bothering to mark them absent or present. Miss F says a lot of people she knows who are supposed to actually be at college, are turning up in the online classes, so I think I was not alone in feeling unhappy about sending my child into a situation deemed too dangerous for me to go into. And yet, when we drove past the college on Tuesday to doorstep deliver my niece’s birthday present, we saw hordes of students all congregating outside the college – no masks were being worn and there was no social distancing at all.

Then there are the missing teachers. All of the art teachers have suddenly been given “medical leave” and disappeared from college. Medical leave? Really? Who do they think they’re fooling with that one? There is only one reason why a whole department of teachers would suddenly be absent and that’s because Covid is in the college.

So, what have I been up to this week? As you know, I have been frantically working on getting my new novel “Black Ice” ready for publication. Monday and Tuesday were spent making all the amendments that my wonderful proof-reader found. Boy, talk about small things. She literally went over the manuscript with a fine toothcomb. I am a pretty accurate typist, and for all my faults, I can spell, so thankfully it wasn’t a question of her highlighting all the spelling mistakes and typos I’d made, no, it was more the punctuation and grammar side of things she was checking.

I know the basic rules of punctuation, but some of the finer points escape me. I mean, I understand what an Oxford comma is, but I’m not always sure where the blasted thing is supposed to go. And as for the difference between hyphens, em dashes and en dashes – well, that was a closed book. But she patiently explained the difference until I got it. Then I had a minor panic because my keyboard didn’t seem to have an en or an em dash key on it! But after googling it, I discovered how to get the dash I needed – for anyone else wondering, it’s control and the minus symbol on the numerical keypad.

She also found a few tiny plot holes that in themselves aren’t the end of the world, but, once she had questioned them, it got me thinking about them. So, Wednesday was spent writing the few lines necessary to tweak the story to make it completely watertight. Initially, I did pout at her pointing them out – all writers think that their work is perfect – but as I made the small changes that explained something more clearly, or made the plot hang together better, I could see how much stronger it made my book, and then I was incredibly grateful to her for having the courage to speak up. And it does take courage to tell a writer than although their book is wonderful, it could be a little more wonderful if only they changed certain aspects of it.

Once these had been written, checked, and inserted into the story, the whole book was sent to the wonderful Becky Wright over at Platform House Publishing. She double checked all the illustrations and fixed them in place, then sent me back a PDF print ready copy and a cover that had been resized to fit perfectly the 499 page brick this book has become.

It’s been uploaded to KDP now and the physical proof copy ordered. While waiting for that to be delivered late next week, the manuscript has gone to my beta reader, Caroline, for her to read it through. I know there will probably be yet more alterations, and normally I wouldn’t upload the book until after I’d received it back from the beta and made all their amendments as well. But I’m up against the clock on this one, so it made sense to get the proof copy ordered and then send it to the beta while waiting for it to be delivered.

After all, the physical copy is more about checking the cover – KDP have a habit of slightly changing the colour tones in a cover, so that wonderful burnt umber colour you’d chosen actually comes out a tomato soup orange in real life. It’s also about checking the interior formatting – the spacing, the illustrations etc. This time we’re experimenting with having the borders on the chapter title pages bleed right to the very edge of the page – so need to make sure that has worked out okay. Then there was some doubt that the illuminated capitals at the beginning of each chapter might not be clear enough!

All these small details that make a book special are the things that take the most time to do. But then everything that’s worth having is worth working extra hard on. The devil is in the detail, and I’ve found it’s these little touches that make many of my readers prepared to spend the extra money and buy a paperback rather than an eBook version. I mean, sure, the eBook version has all the twiddly bits, but they lose impact when they’re not in a printed form. I work really hard to make my books beautiful, and I appreciate everyone who understands and acknowledges that effort by buying the paperback.

I think tomorrow I will begin to get feedback from my beta reader – the book is so big, I had to email It to her in four chunks so she could open it on her phone – and then the final stages of publication will be underway. Going through the manuscript and looking at everything she has found is the next step. I do know of some authors who seem to totally ignore what their betas suggest, but I’m not like that at all. Generally, it works out that 90% of their suggestions I go with. 5% I look at it and realise they haven’t understood what I was trying to get across in that sentence, so it’s down to me to make it clearer. The last 5% is my little author heart stubbornly refusing to change because that’s what I meant, so it stays!

My deadline of publishing by the end of November is now looking very achievable, so baring any major issues with the proof copy, I’m looking at a publication date of the beginning of the last week of the month. I know it’s dreadful that we’ve all had to go back into lockdown because of the soaring infection rates, but this time at home came at the absolute perfect moment and is very useful indeed. I will keep you posted on progress.

During the week, Miss F received an amazing offer. Her course tutor group-chatted her class to let them know that the college had been approached by our local zoo, Banham. They have put together a package to give those students who chose the zoo route in their second year at college a chance at gaining work experience at the zoo! This is an astonishing opportunity and seems almost too good to be true. A small group of students will be spending one day a week at Banham Zoo learning everything there is to know about looking after the animals and zoo management in general. I was a little concerned about transportation – Banham is almost an hour’s drive from here, so that would mean a double journey for me and four hours of my day taken up with driving Miss F there and back – but the college have said they will provide a mini bus both ways!

This will count as her voluntary work placement, so unfortunately does mean she would have to give up her place at the doggy day care centre – which she already knows will upset the owners as they’ve told her repeatedly how great she is, and how training up new people is always a pain – but this is a chance to work in an actual zoo!

Even more excitingly, at the end of the work placement, some of the students may be offered a paid apprenticeship at the zoo.

I am in two minds about this. Yes, it would be a fantastic “foot in the door” for Miss F. Finding employment in a zoo can be extremely difficult, so this would be a way into the industry she really wants to work in. But it could mean giving up her dream of university, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing as I really want her to have the university experience.

We have discussed it at length. Of course, she is going on the work experience placement, because that really is too fantastic an opportunity to miss. Then we will simply take it one step at a time. As Miss F pointed out, if they offer her an apprenticeship then it doesn’t mean university is off the table forever. The apprenticeship will give her a very useful diploma plus invaluable hands-on experience. At the end of the one, or two, year apprenticeship she can then assess her situation and decide whether to try for a job within a zoo, or then go to university. Banham Zoo might even offer her a place.

Who knows, maybe delaying going to university for a year or so might not be a bad thing. It would give the world a chance to settle down after Corona. The vaccine should then be in effect and life approaching normality. Plus, she could live at home, continue to do her part-time job at the restaurant maybe, and have a chance to save some money. She could also use that time to learn how to drive.

One step at a time though. Concentrate on the small things and let the big stuff figure itself out – that’s usually how it works.

Saturday morning, I slipped to the local supermarket early to grab a few items to make dinner with. To my surprise it was heaving with people. Apart from the masks, it was like business as usual, and you never would have guessed by the way people were barging by each other and reaching for things over other people, that we are all supposed to be in lockdown. I even saw one elderly couple stand in the middle of an aisle and take off their masks to have a facetime chat with a grandchild on their phone! So, it’s not just the young people who aren’t sticking to the rules.

While I was there, I treated myself to a delicious cherry and almond Danish pastry and a box of frothy coffee sachets to take home for a treat for breakfast. It really is the small things that make the difference.

That’s all my news for now. It’s gone 9am and I need to shower and have breakfast. We are having a zoom meeting with the family at midday to watch my niece open the present we dropped off earlier in the week, so I need to be ready for that.

Take care everyone, and no matter where you are in the world, stay safe, and stay well.

Julia Blake

One thought on “It’s The Small Things That Matter

  1. So excited for Black Ice. Nothing is better than an editor who gets your work and cares. It sounds like you have a great editor and there is mutual respect. Beta readers are important too. I think it’s good to wait till the end, like you did. If they read the chapters along the way you can get into a bad pattern of writing for them and it can be disruptive rather than constructive.

    So glad Ms. F is home and that the lodger is working out so well. It is great that she was able to help him with his schoolwork and that they seem to have a nice relationship. It doesn’t surprise me that many other students are not going, and that is really quite interesting that an entire department, the art apartment, is gone. Yes, the virus is definitely on campus. Still shocking how so many of those kids seem to be totally irresponsible in their behavior. Some parents are definitely going to be getting infected.

    What a great opportunity for your daughter at the zoo. I understand all the conflicts about it, because there are many good decisions that can be made. So it’s choosing between several good options. I think it is an important point that you take that if she does this, by the time she goes back to university, if that is the course she decides to take, the Covid issue will be over.

    So glad you are on the final, final tweaks of Black Ice. Sounds like it is going to be an exceptionally beautiful book physically. And I can’t wait to read it!


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