And so, another week has flown by and once again I’m sitting here, staring at a blank screen, and wondering what to tell you. It’s Friday morning – I am working the whole weekend – so am having to write my blog a day earlier than usual.
Well, firstly, Miss F seems to have settled into university life very nicely judging by the messages, voice chats, photos, and videos I’ve been sent, usually with a glass of cider in her hand. Hmm, should I be worried or simply accept this is part of university life? Still, I can’t help wondering what happened to that girl who stated less than six months ago that she hated all alcohol and would never drink?
The only fly in her otherwise perfect ointment is that her mattress is so hard and horrible she’s finding it hard to sleep on it and it’s giving her backache! I did think it might. When I made the bed for her, the day we moved her in, I had a look at the mattress and couldn’t believe how nasty it was. Imagine something only four inches deep, with a thick plastic casing and ridges where the springs are poking through. Not very comfortable. Something needs to be done but I’m not sure what.
The obvious answer is another topper, a thick memory foam one this time. But we are currently experiencing shortages of a lot of products right now due to the pandemic, Brexit, a worldwide fabric shortage, and a shortage of HGV drivers, and sadly we can’t get any mattress toppers in the right size. I have no idea how long the shortages are going to last. Also, there is some doubt that even a thick topper will be enough to alleviate the concrete state of the mattress and as they are quite expensive it might be a complete waste of money.
The second option is to buy her another mattress to go on top of the university supplied one. With my staff discount I can get her a thick pocket sprung and memory foam one in the four-foot-wide size we need – and get it delivered directly to the university for free. This would solve any comfort issues as the mattress in question is wonderfully comfortable. But even with my discount, it’s still going to be another £164 of money I’m a bit short of right now. I’m also not sure what the university will think of it. I don’t see how it would be an issue. After all, with an eight-inch mattress on top at least they know their mattress will be protected from stains, spills, and wear and tear. Then there’s the fact at the end of three years we will be left with a four-foot mattress that might be surplus to requirements. So, I’m not sure yet what course to take.
I’ll keep you posted.
And what have I been up to during my first week alone? Well, to be honest, I’ve been so busy I’ve hardly had a chance to realise I am all alone. I worked all last weekend and got home in the evenings just wanting a plate of dinner, to watch something mindless on TV, then go to bed.
I did have Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday off this week and had all sorts of things planned. But when I awoke after eight on Monday morning, I quickly realised my mind and body had other plans for me. Slow down, they both insisted, you’ve been going at 100mph for months now. Last week was unbelievably stressful, and physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. You must take it easy now or else we won’t be responsible for the consequences.
For once, I listened, and instead of going at my to-do list like a bat out of hell, I moved gently and slowly through my tasks. Getting the basement room ready for viewings was the priority, so I went to open the window that leads to the outside hatchway to let fresh air and sunshine blast through the room and dispel the slight mustiness in the air from being closed-up and unused for eight months.
I ran into my first hitch. After eight months without being opened the wooden frame had swollen and the window was stuck fast. Nothing I did would convince that window to budge and I was afraid if I was too brutal, I’d break the glass. There was nothing else for it, I phoned my dad.
He’s playing golf, mum said, I’ll give him a call and ask him to call in on his way home. Less than twenty minutes later, he did, and with his superior strength managed to persuade the window to open so I was able to crawl into the hatchway and open it. Monday was a gorgeous day, warm and sunny with a lovely breeze. By leaving the door to the basement open and the back door opposite, it meant a flow of air was soon gusting through.
The room was clean and tidy, but after eight months it needed the cobwebs removing, a good dusting, and the carpet going over with a bit of Shake’n’Vac – “you do the Shake’n’Vac and put the freshness back. Do the Shake’n’Vac and put the freshness back!”
With the room now smelling of vanilla furniture polish and lemon Shake’n’Vac, I took the bedding and put it through a quick wash to freshen it up and hung it out to dry in the sunshine. Once it was dry and ironed, I made the bed nicely, accessorised the room with a few props, and took some new photos for the ad. The room must look attractive so it will tempt potential lodgers. I’m asking quite a lot for the room and although it’s nowhere near the top end of the price band for a room that size in this area, and the renter gets a lot for the money, the lack of a private bathroom can put some people off. I am hoping that now there’s only me in the house using the facilities that it might make the prospect of sharing a bathroom more palatable.
Tuesday dawned wet, cold, and miserable. There would be no opening the basement window today, so I concentrated on getting the other areas that a potential lodger would view shipshape and sparkling clean. It’s a bit like when you’re trying to sell a house and you must live at a ridiculously high level of cleanliness and tidiness so you’re ready to have a viewing at a moment’s notice. By the end of Tuesday, everything was pristine and of course, with no Miss F in the house, it means it will stay that way. Sorry, Miss F, I love you dearly, but you are an untidy horror with a conviction that everything you own should be kept on the floor.
Speaking of lodgers, there’s an interesting little postscript to a previous lodger that occurred the week before Miss F left for uni. It was Friday evening, about nine, and we were watching TV when there was a pounding on my front door. Startled, I went into the hall and was alarmed to see a torch being shone through the glass in the door. Opening it, I found two burly policemen standing there.
ME: Umm, yes?
Police: Sorry to bother you, but we’re looking for someone called D**
He stopped before pronouncing the surname.
ME: Do you mean D** S********?
Police: Yes, him.
(He looked vastly relieved that I had pronounced the tricky Romanian name for him)
ME: I’m afraid he doesn’t live here anymore, he moved out a year ago in August.
Police: Are you his ex?
I snorted at the thought.
ME: Hardly, I’m old enough to be his mother. No, I sometimes let out a room and D** rented it from me for about eight months from October 2019 to August 2020.
Police: Oh, I see. Do you know where he went?
ME: Not really, he never gave me a forwarding address. He moved in with his girlfriend and I think it was into one of those new flats behind the station.
Police: So, you’ve no idea where he went at all?
ME: No, sorry, but he works or worked at that farm machinery manufacturers outside town.
ME: Yes, there.
Police: Right, thanks.
ME: You’re welcome.
ME: What did he do?
Police: I’m not at liberty to say.
ME: Oh, go on.
Police: No, sorry. But thanks for your help.
I closed the door but as they walked past our open window, we heard one of them say into his radio – It’s as we thought, he’s moved on from here, but we do have another couple of leads.
Oh, Mr D! What have you done?! I don’t suppose I’ll ever know.
I also went shopping on Tuesday for the first time since Miss F left. Much to my surprise I bought a huge amount of healthy food for half my normal weekly bill.
Now onto something else that has happened which was very unpleasant and has caused me a huge amount of stress and worry – on top of getting Miss F packed up for uni and the whole trauma of getting her there and settled in.
On the 4th of September, I received a rather alarming email claiming to be from KDP. For those of you not in the author world, KDP is the division of Amazon that I publish my books through. We have decided, it said, that one or more of your book(s) has a serious copyright issue on one of its images used on the cover(s). Please click on the link below to take immediate action to prevent us from making your book(s) unavailable.
Now I am very careful what images I use in all my books and any promotional material connected to them. Over the years I have spent hundreds of pounds purchasing the right to use the images I wanted from Shutterstock, so I knew there was no copyright issue with any of them.
Was it a scam? Naturally suspicious of any strange email I receive wanting me to click on random links and threatening dire consequences if I don’t, I contacted a few other authors to see if they’d heard of anything like this happening to any other author.
No, they’d never heard of KDP sending out an email like this. It was probably a scam. I checked my books listings on Amazon. All present and correct. Convinced in my mind it was a scam, I put it to one side in favour of the more pressing demands on my time – namely Miss F and university matters.
A couple of days later a duplicate of the email dropped into my inbox. Concerned, I contacted KDP direct explaining what had happened. Was this from them? I asked. Or was it a scam?
The next day a reply came to the email I had sent to KDP – there was a copyright issue with my book(s). As nothing had been done to rectify it, the book(s) in question had been made unavailable.
Now seriously rattled I went to my listings. Sure enough, the paperback version of Becoming Lili was no longer available to buy.
I dashed off a frantic email, by now it was Monday morning, and I was busy arranging Miss F’s open house day, I seriously did not have the time or headspace for this. What is the problem? I asked. I have copyright for the image used on the cover of Becoming Lili because I purchased it using a standard licence from Shutterstock.
Then I put on a sociable face, tried to forget about it for the rest of the day and make it a pleasant one for Miss F. That evening I received the same generic AI response. There is a copyright issue with your book. If you don’t rectify it within five days, we might delete your account.
Again, I sent an email begging for clarification. What was the issue? If they refused to tell me what the problem was, how could they expect me to resolve it?
Tuesday lunchtime another automated response came stating the same thing as all the other emails I had so far received. My emails to them were becoming increasingly frantic as I begged them to at least give me a clue what the issue was.
The emails all stated I needed to supply a written contract signed by the original artist or photographer. That’s not how Shutterstock works and KDP knows that. The artist/photographer sells their images to Shutterstock and with it any rights they might have to copyright or royalties. People like me can then purchase the right to use the images through the use of a licence. It is standard practice and millions of authors take advantage of this ability to buy good quality, copyright-free images to use on covers, interior formatting, and promotional material. Cover designers use the images and even traditional publishers make use of websites such as Shutterstock. If KDP were now stating that Shutterstock images were no longer acceptable for use then there would be millions of authors, cover designers, and publishers up shit creek without a paddle.
Desperately, I sent them an email explaining all of this. Hours later, back came the identical AI automated response.
And then it was Wednesday and there was nothing more I could do. I had to try and put it from my mind and concentrate on getting Miss F safely to her university, get her settled, then drive home on Thursday.
Friday morning, I sat down with a coffee and tried to phone KDP. It was clear emails were getting me nowhere fast and, in the meantime, Becoming Lili was still unavailable to buy in paperback. KDP doesn’t have a direct phone line, so I had to call Amazon and try to explain to the person who eventually answered the phone what the issue was. Struggling to understand her thick deep south American accent, the situation wasn’t helped by the fact she didn’t seem to know who KDP were and even that Amazon DID publish books. Gamely, I struggled on. It had taken forty-five minutes for her to answer the phone, so I wasn’t going to give up now. Eventually, she doubtfully said she thought she’d found the right extension to put me through. Hold on, please.
I held on…
Fifteen minutes into waiting the panpipe music abruptly stopped and was replaced with static.
Determined not to lose my nerve and give in I waited another thirty minutes until …. brrr … the static cut off and was replaced by the disconnected tone.
Grinding my teeth in utter frustration, I tried again.
This time I got through to someone with more understandable English and who had a better grasp of the situation. By now I was so fed up and scared and felt so helpless that I broke down and sobbed over the phone. She couldn’t have been nicer. Taking all the details, she promised to investigate it and escalate the matter further, and with that, I had to be satisfied.
Friday afternoon I had my local authors zoom meeting and told them what had happened. Horrified, they told me to keep going with the emails because eventually, the AI would register that I wasn’t going away and would pass my case onto a human being.
All weekend, I kept going. I took pictures of the cover of Becoming Lili, found the original image on Shutterstock, and took a picture to show it was still there and still available to use. I took a picture of the original download details of when I purchased the right to use the image back in April 2017. Yes, that’s how long ago it was and KDP has only just decided it’s an issue! Finally, I took pictures of the Shutterstock blurb stating that it is absolutely okay to use their images for book covers with a standard licence and that the only time there would ever be an issue would be if you reached 500,000 sales with that particular book and you would have to upgrade to an enhanced licence.
Not quite there, Shutterstock, not quite there.
I attached all of these to my emails and kept sending them – every couple of hours I would fire off the same email giving all the facts and demanding that a human being read the email and sort the issue out.
Finally, Monday morning, I received an email from a real, live breathing person asking for confirmation of the Shutterstock reference number and asking me to supply written permission to myself to use the cover image on my book. I sent it. Thank you, said the person, we’ll consider all of this and get back to you.
Tuesday morning an email arrived saying that after due consideration they had decided that I WAS allowed to use the image I had been happily using since May 2017 on Becoming Lili and that if I went onto my account, I could now resubmit the book and it would be once again available to purchase on Amazon but that it could take 24 hours.
I resubmitted it and waited. By Wednesday lunchtime it still hadn’t been made available, so I emailed them again. Back came an email, oh, it might take 48 hours, they amended.
I waited until Thursday evening, nope, still not available. Now it is Friday lunchtime and a full 72 hours since I first republished the book. Again, I have emailed them and again I must wait until they deign to answer.
It is scary how much power KDP and Amazon have over us authors. They have put me through two weeks of hell and have still not issued an apology or even told me what the problem was. Why, after over four years of being published, did they suddenly pick on this book and this author to conduct a witch hunt on?
Hopefully, Becoming Lili will soon be back up but all I can do is wait and hope. I will keep you all posted, but, in the meantime, all authors out there make sure you have proof that you can use the images you have on your covers – you never know when you might need it.
And that’s about it for this week, except, one last piece of more uplifting news. Do you remember all the who-ha about my watch? Miss F bought me a lovely steampunk watch to celebrate the publication of Black Ice and as an early Christmas present. Because we then went into lockdown, I did not need a watch, and it wasn’t until mid-April when we returned to work that I discovered the watch didn’t work.
Miss F contacted the Etsy seller. Weeks went by before she responded. So sorry, she said, I’ll get a replacement to you as soon as the parts come in to make one. Two months went by. We contacted her again. Nothing. We sent more emails. No reply. Then, I must confess, we got caught up in other things and didn’t have the time or energy to pursue it. I knew Miss F had written it off and didn’t expect to ever receive either a replacement or a refund of the £45 it had cost her. I was annoyed about it, but as Miss F had bought it there wasn’t a lot I could do.
Anyway, on Monday a package turned up for Miss F. I messaged her. Ooh, I’m expecting a little stuffed bee to hang in my room, she said, that’s probably what it is. I filmed myself opening it. No bee. Instead, it was the watch!
We couldn’t believe it. Finally, after waiting five months, the replacement one had turned up! And this is just so typical of how shit most customer service is nowadays.
Anyway, I need to go to the post office and run a few errands, and then this evening for the first time in forever, I will be able to join my neighbours in the street for their regular 5:30 happy hour drink without having to worry about going to pick Miss F up from work at 9:30! Do not miss that either.
Take care everyone, and I will chat with you next week.