Just James! Fascinating in-depth interview with the bestselling author – James Fahy

My Meet the Author spot this month is focused on bestselling traditionally published author, James Fahy. Creator of the The Changeling fantasy trilogy and the Urban Gothic vampire series Phoebe Harkness. James is also a major influencer on Instagram, where he shares snapshots of his life and family shenanigans, as well as featuring amazing recipes and cooking tips. Although an extremely busy man, James is a keen advocate of authors from all walks of life supporting each other – be they newbies or seasoned writers, traditionally published or indies.

First of all, thank you so much James, for taking the time to come onto A Little Bit of Blake this week, and I’d like to start by congratulating you on the launch of the latest book in the Phoebe Harkness series, “Paper Children”.

Thanks, Julia. It’s been a while coming since Phoebe 2, for enough reasons to fill a whole interview all on its own.  I wrote Changeling 3 after the second Phoebe book, then, due to my own clumsiness, got into a bit of a traffic accident which led to a fun year of operations and physio. Once everything was back off hold though, I wanted to get Phoebe 3 out there asap. Excited that it’s finally here!

As an author myself, I know what a crazy head-rush launching a book is, so, how do you feel it went? And do you have any traditions or routines you like to follow when publishing a new book?

Book Launch time is one of my favourite times. All the solitary slogging away behind the scenes, where it’s just you and the screen finally come to fruition. I spend most of my time in the run up weeks to launch in a whirlwind of emails and phone conversations with the Publishers, my Agent, the art dept who are dealing with the cover, the marketing guys who are telling me where and how they’ll be pushing the book… it’s an odd sensation really, as writing itself is so solitary, but then at the ‘birth’ there are suddenly so many people involved and it turns into a bit of a circus. I also have great fun running teaser campaigns on Social Media, promos, booktrailers and giveways. I think any author would agree it’s a little bit like a personal Christmas when you have a new book out. Great fun but a bit exhausting.

You’ve probably been asked this before, but can you pinpoint what or even who inspired the character of Phoebe Harkness within your imagination, and was the fact that Oxford appears to be one of your favourite places a contributing factor to basing Phoebe’s world in a dystopian version of this city?

My decision to write Phoebe largely stemmed from my frustration at how a lot of male writers seemed to handle female characters. I read a lot of Urban Gothic and paranormal, and while there are some great ones out there, there are also so many books where it seems the only way a woman can be portrayed in a book as ‘strong’ is either to make her a completely stone-cold b***h, or have her be this perfect and unrealistic goddess. In my life, I’m surrounded by strong women, in my family and friends, and I wanted to write a female lead hero who was badass AND human. Phoebe is sarcastic, resilient and tough. She’s also socially awkward, clumsy and makes mistakes. I didn’t want to shy away from presenting a fully rounded person, and that’s where Phoebe came from. It seems to have worked well, I get so much feedback, especially from female readers, either telling me they ARE Phoebe, or they want to be her best friend. That’s pretty gratifying to me as a writer. One of the oddest questions I get asked is ‘as a man, how do you write women so well?’. Which I think is odd, because I’m fairly sure no one ever asked JK Rowling ‘as a woman, how do you write teenage boys so well?’.

As for choosing Oxford, well it’s my hometown, so it’s where my heart lives, and I know it inside out.

 It’s such an amazing city, and there’s so much history and architecture to mine there as a writer. Phoebe’s world is a closed in walled city, so I had to choose one that was interesting enough and had enough substance for me to play in for more than one book. I can’t imagine Phoebe being set anywhere else now.

Phoebe Harkness is now a trilogy, do you intend for it to remain so? Or can fans expect more from her? If you’ve truly written the end on that story, which direction will your writing take you in now and can you give any hints as to what your readers can look forward to?

Will there be more Phoebe after Paper Children? Hmm… readers will have to read the last page if they want to know. (evil cackle).

The next book I will be releasing will be book four of the Changeling series, which my Erlking readers have actually started baying for blood for now. I think if I moved to anything else before putting that one out there in the world, they would actually come for me with torches. It will be hot on the heels of Paper children though, promise!

After that, I have more than one project I’m working on. Two standalone novels, both of which hopefully will surprise readers familiar with my work, as neither of them are quite like what I’ve written before. My Changeling series is radically different in tone and voice to the Harkness books, and I really enjoy singing in different notes that way, so you can expect something a little chilling, and something a little historical. I’m keeping details under my hat for now though.

I know as writers we’re not allowed to pick a favourite book – as parents are not allowed to have a favourite child – but is there one of yours that holds a special place within your heart?

Book? Or child?

There’s more than one book that’s special to me, for different reasons. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner contains the spark that lit a fire in my younger mind that would one day spread into the Changeling series. I’m not sure I would ever have come to Erlking or the Netherworlde without Garner. Likewise, there’s a little-known book by Thomas Burnett Swan called Day of the Minotaur. I read it when I was around thirteen, and it started my obsession with mythology and faerie tales. It’s probably the reason I studied classics at college and later at Uni, and these themes still flavour a lot of my writing, so I owe a lot to that book.

Are you one of those authors who wrote as a child? Or is it something that came later in life?

Oh, I’ve always written. I think it was a bit of an outlet for me when I was a child. I was very solitary. I wasn’t one of the popular kids and I think I had a bit of a reputation of being a weirdo. My childhood was a strange and quite lonely one. Most friends I had were adults. I could hold better conversations with them and none of them ever tried to push me down the stairs at school. I was bullied at both primary and High school and hated both. I didn’t really start making friends or become comfortable in my own skin until I left high school and went to college. I met good people there and started to realise that the world was bigger than school, and I could carve a place in it, even if only through sheer bloody-minded determination. So, writing as a child was escapism for me. I could be anyone, I could go anyway. I could get away from my own life. I think you need that spark, that need to explore other places than your own life, in order to start to be a writer. Everything that comes after that is just practise, trial and error as you hone your skills and find your voice.

I’ve seen it stated many times that unless you write every day you cannot consider yourself a proper writer. Now, I have my own views about that statement, but was wondering what your take on it is?

I get that some people say that, and I can see the sense in it, in that, like exercise, if you fall out of the habit, you can get flabby and it can be difficult to get back into your stride. But I also think that, like exercise, sometimes you just need a rest day. Everyone is different. Some people have to write every day, others won’t stop until they’ve written a self-appointed ‘words per day’ target.

That doesn’t work for me. I can go a couple of days without writing. Sometimes I just need to switch off. I do get antsy though if I go longer than a week, as I write full time, so I really have no excuse not to. Although I give myself a mental break, as I have other things in my life too. I’m father and main carer to my family, two of which have special needs, so I have a lot of adult responsibilities, a house to run like clockwork, and everything else to manage too. A burned-out writer is a bad writer, that’s what I think anyway.

I know from your Instagram page that your hobbies and interests are broad and far ranging, but when you’re not writing, what is your favourite thing to do?

I can’t ever really sit still. I’m a very fidgety person, so I get very antsy (and no doubt irritating to everyone around me) if I have nothing to do. Even if I’m reading, it’s usually in a multitasking way, book propped up in the kitchen while I’m cooking, or balanced on the bike at the gym.

I love cooking and baking and am a self-confessed foodie, as anyone who follows me online already knows. I’m the only one who cooks in my house. My other half isn’t allowed in the kitchen, it’s my realm. There’s something very relaxing to me about cooking, all the stages of preparation, method and ingredients. It’s almost meditative. And the fact that it all comes together in the end into something delicious is like alchemy. Plus, I get huge satisfaction from seeing people enjoying things I create. Whether that’s my books or the food I put in front of my family. Maybe I still get a dopamine hit from pleasing people and feeling appreciated, blame my childhood!

Other than cooking, I’ve gotten back into exercise and being healthy in a big way. (yes, I’ve become one of those horrible people who actually enjoys going to the gym). It’s so good for clearing the mind, releasing stress and tension, and just making you feel better about yourself. I treat it like therapy, it gets me out of my own head for a while. After my stupid accident where I nearly died, I think I’ve scared myself a bit, and realised how fragile we are. Bodies are not disposable; I feel the urge to look after it now. I’d like to be around for a while longer!

When I do make myself relax, I adore horror movies. I will watch anything as long as its not torture-porn, (boring). Very few movies actually scare me. The ones that do impress me are those that don’t rely on lazy jump-scares, but the ones that unsettle and get under your skin. The ones you find yourself thinking about days later.

Like me, you are very careful to maintain your family’s privacy online, but how do you feel about those authors who share every tiny detail of their lives on social media?

It’s not for me to tell other people how to police their own social media. Some people are clearly happy enough to have their whole lives on show, but for me personally, it’s an area I’m very wary of.

The nature of my job means that I consider myself (to some degree) to be available and approachable. I’m happy splashing my own face everywhere and being public property, but when it comes to my family, they didn’t sign up for this. I don’t mind being in the public eye, but my OH is a very private person, and my kids are kids. They have a right not to be constantly exposed to however many followers I have. I’m fair game, I’m happy with that, but they all know and live with ‘dad’ and ‘husband’ me, not ‘jamesfahyauthor’ me. There’s so much danger online with security these days, if you’re in any even semi-public profession. You might see the odd, very occasional family photo on my feed, if it’s a special occasion and I have everyone’s agreement, but otherwise I don’t even give my other half or children’s names out, simply because out of the people who follow me on social media, a heck of a lot of them are people I don’t know. You never know if there are stalkers or oddballs out there. (judging from some of the more random Direct Messages I get on Insta from total strangers, quite a few, it seems.)

You seem to have struck a happy balance on Instagram, posting a lot of non-book related posts and stories, and of course as a traditionally published author with the backing and promoting of a publishing house there is less need for you to promote your own books. But I was wondering how you felt the unsupported indie author should best try to promote themselves and their books on social media? And is there anything you feel they really should avoid doing? (Sorry, that’s a lot of questions within a question)

That is a many levelled question! Okay, I’ll try to answer each bit of it.

Firstly, yes, I’m pretty happy with what I call the ‘casserole of nonsense’ that makes up my little insta-world. I see some accounts where it’s a writer and EVERY single post is about either their books or writing, and I fully understand why they might do that, and if it works for them, then great. But nobody is just one two-dimensional thing. I think it’s far more interesting and varied to your followers for them to actually get to know you, through sharing your other interests, your sense of humour or oddities. Open up a little to people instead of just being a rolling infomercial, that’s what I say. My feed is a blend of writing and promo pieces, whatever I’m reading, lots of landscape and nature photography, food, and many a silly selfie when I have some random topic on my mind I want to chat to people about. It works well for me, it might not for others.

You’re right in saying it’s a benefit to have a publisher when traditional to help with marketing, promoting etc. (and I should hope so too, they do, after all, take a cut of what you’re books make, so any writer would expect them to work as hard as they do themselves to make the book a success) – in my case they do. My publishers are wonderful and always enthusiastic.

I’m not sure I self-promote any less than an ‘indie’ writer though. I do all the same things on Social Media, teasers, giveaways and competitions, book trailers etc. mainly because I genuinely enjoy that side of things, its just another way to be creative and play with the world you’ve created in your books, but in a different format. I love image and video editing, so it never feels a chore to me.

As for what people should avoid doing? Well, I don’t think it makes a difference if you’re traditionally published or indie, or self-published, (I actually don’t like people hanging on the distinction as though it has any real bearing on the writing. A book is a book.) I have a lot of writer friends, both traditionally published and self-published, and the ONLY advice I would ever feel qualified to give if they asked, would be to be genuine. If you follow or interact with other people online, do it because you want to, and you find them interesting, not for the fact that they might be ‘useful’ to you further down the line, or that you think they might buy or review your book if you’re nice to them.

People are very, very, good at sniffing out insincerity that way I think. I chat on a regular basis to a lot of my followers, and for most of them I have no idea at all if they’ve read my books, or if they just like talking to me and following my posts. And I don’t ask. I don’t push my books onto people. If you make a genuine connection with someone, it’s been my experience that at some point you get a message saying, ‘oh btw I just bought your book and I’m loving it’. That’s far more satisfying to me.

My only other never-do rule (that I stick to myself as well) is never plug your own book uninvited in someone else’s comments section. I just think that’s such terrible manners, and always so awkward. Online friends are not each-others free advertising space. If that person wants to shout your book out, they will, (and if you’ve made a genuine connection, they really will). Shoehorning a ‘great pic of your pet budgie, Laura. It reminds me of a scene in my bestselling new novel soon available at amazon and other outlets’ just makes me absolutely cringe! I’d never do it, and when I have it done to me it makes my cynical mind wonder if that person is only my ‘friend’ online because I’m a handy soapbox.

I’m always more than happy to support and shout out other writers, (and I do all the time, we’re all in the same business after all, and attention is not cake. Someone else getting a shout out does not mean less love for me) but I know a couple of traditionally published writers who would never shout out an indie writer, and equally, I know indie writers who only shout out indie books, or create closed (to me) posts asking indie discussion questions I cant contribute to. It’s a bit sad that the division even exists. I think it’s self-defeating and I tend to ignore it and just do my own thing.

I know you avoid Facebook and have been quite vocal about your dislike of it, can you tell us why you think Facebook and Instagram are such different beasties when they are owned by the same company and are basically the same concept?

They operate very differently, (for me) Facebook works like a town hall noticeboard, where I can hang a post with some info about my writing, or what’s going on, and maybe people will see it, maybe they won’t, but it feels much less immediate and less like a conversation than Insta does. What I like about Insta is that there is this sense of a cohesive Bookstagram community, and it’s a bit of a false picture. Everybody doesn’t know everyone else, and we’re not all standing in a big circle holding hands. It’s more like countless smaller circles that are always moving and interlocking, little sub-pockets of people, and each of us is in (and moves in and out of) several of these shoals at any given time. That’s fun for me to explore.

I like that I can fill my grid with my posts, (which I think of almost as a blog) whereas on IG stories, I probably do most of my interaction with people, as it’s silly, disposable and very light. You can put whatever you like on there. I follow certain peoples IG stories much more than I follow their grid, because their stories are so entertaining. Largely on Insta, I live in DM’s, where I normally have a ton of conversations going at any given time. Its like texting a ton of friends at once, and some of these conversations you could scroll up a year. Its wonderful for me, as a writer, to make that connection and to build that kind of long-term relationship with a reader.

Autumn is here and the endless posts of falling leaves and pumpkin spice with everything are once more upon us. Do you have a favourite season? Or do you find something different to enjoy in each one, and can you sum up in a few words what each season means to you?

I don’t have a favourite. I love them all for different reasons. (I know a lot of people hate winter for the horrible weather if they have to commute, but I work from home so I get to escape that – but I did it for years before I was able to write full time, and the horror is still in my memory)

Okay, in a few words then:

Spring always feels hopeful to me. Winters are long and dark here, and there’s something about seeing that first fuzz of green on the bare trees and the days starting to get lighter that makes me feel I can breathe again. I love blossom, spring always feels like a celebration.

Summer: this is when I escape to my cottage on the island off Wales, so it’s my super happy family time, always full of busy adventure, exploring and outdoor fun. Summer is beaches and cliff walks, my kids covered in ice-cream, and sand all over the car. G & T in the garden in the evenings, and big family BBQ and parties.

Autumn: for some reason I always seem to be releasing a book in autumn, so its always busy! I love the light in this season, and the crisper air. Deer parks and woodland walks, with lots of hot and filling autumn food.

Winter: I do love all the festivities, Christmas, new year, fireworks and bonfires, and of course Halloween is my favourite time of year full stop. Mulled wine and cosy nights snuggled on the sofa reading. Bliss.

As I’ve mentioned before, you feature a lot of recipes and share with us the wonderful looking meals you create on Instagram. You seem to have a strong preference for Asian cooking, and I wondered what your favourite meal is?

I spent time in Japan, which is where my love of all things Japanese comes from. I speak well enough Japanese to get by, and I love the elegant simplicity and artistry of Japanese cooking. For a long time, my favourite dish was Nabeyaki Udon, which is a comforting noodle and egg broth full of smoky dark flavours. More recently, in the last few years, I discovered a love for Korea, and I’m an absolute addict for K-drama. I’ve watched so many, and I love everything about the culture, from the music, the fashion, the food and the cultural atmosphere and social rules. I plan to head to Seoul once I can speak the language well enough (I’m learning Korean at the moment – I love languages) and see it for myself. Korean food is robust and punchy and full of bold flavours and smells. My new favourite thing is Bibimbap, which I have gotten pretty good at making. So tasty!

Did you watch a lot of TV chefs as a child? Growing up, I have vivid memories of a mumsy Delia Smith and a permanently drunk Keith Floyd whom my family watched more for entertainment value than to learn to actually cook from.

No, not really, but everyone in my family cooked growing up. My family is Irish on my fathers’ side, and Italian on my mothers, and both clans are huge, and all foodies. I started cooking when I was very young, and I cook with my own little ones now. I think it’s important you learn young to be self-sufficient. I still remember being shocked when I first went to Uni and one of my flatmates in halls couldn’t iron a shirt or boil an egg. TV Chef wise, I love Mary Berry, as she’s always up for a laugh, and I have the biggest crush on Nigella Lawson. Everything she makes always looks so decadent

What do your family think of your books? I appreciate your daughters are probably too young for Phoebe Harkness, but have they read The Changeling series? Or perhaps you’ve read it to them?

My eldest, who is ten, has read the Changeling Series and loves it. With a writer in the family she’s been reading since she was born, so her reading age, (according to her school anyway) is around fifteen now. She writes as much as I do and told me she wants to be an author like Dad when she grows up. I told her not to wait until she grows up, write now, and she does. Our house is fully of stories. I haven’t read my books aloud to them, (they both like to squirrel themselves away in reading nooks in the playroom and read in peace) but I’ve done readings and talks at quite a few schools, including my daughters, which I think she was equal parts proud and mortified about. Any book talk I’ve done is always fun when it’s with kids. They ask the best questions.

Can you remember a book or series that had the biggest impact on you as child, and maybe were the influence behind your own writing career?

As I’ve said earlier, Garner’s Brisingamen is my mental bedrock, for reasons I can’t really articulate. I think it was my first encounter with the idea of a magical world intersecting with the real world, something I’ve gotten my teeth into with my own writing. I was (and still am) a huge Tolkien nerd, long before there was any whisper of movie versions. I must have read Lord of the Rings countless times. It’s the scope and depth of the world building that gets me, and I think Tolkien laid out the unspoken guide for pretty much every fantasy writer who followed him. Ironically, the vampire nightclub, Sanctum, which lies below the streets of Oxford in my Phoebe Harkness books, is entered by the Eagle and Child pub, where Tolkien used to meet and chat with CS Lewis and the other inklings. It’s a regular haunt of mine, and one of my favourite pubs to sit and write in in Oxford. It’s hard not to feel inspired when you’re sitting with your notebook in the same spot he used to sit and write in.

Do you have any favourite authors now? And what is it about them that appeals to you?

I’ve always adored Clive Barker. It’s been a thirty-year love affair since I first picked up one of his books, and I think I own everything he’s written. He’s known for horror due to classics like the Hellbound Heart (and the Hellraiser movies that it inspired) but he writes the most original and weird fantasy, he’s just a master storyteller. His writing is always lyrical, almost poetic. I think what I love about Barker is that he never pigeonholed himself or limited himself to one thing. He’s written horror, fantasy, children’s books, he’s a filmmaker, a director, an artist with great work in paint and sculpture. It’s something I aspire to do too.

Neil Gaiman is another, for similar reasons. His seminal Sandman series opened my eyes to graphic novels, and how you can hide stories within other stories. He doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable or controversial subjects, and his writing is always filled with a kind of quiet, unobtrusive hope.

Of the classic authors, which ones have you read and is there a piece of classic literature you think should be compulsory reading in every school?

I did a BA and MA in English and American Literature, so I’ve probably read most of the classics. Uni was useful for turning me onto them, and writers I might not have explored, and the poets. It really forces you to widen your reading and to read outside of your comfort bubble. There are some amazing minds in the classics, and its rewarding to spend time with them. It would be hard to choose a favourite, but I love Hemmingway and Henry James, Tennyson and Coleridge, and Mrs Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf, is a book that is so beautifully written, I read it once a year.

I’m not sure about compulsory reading in school. My school read ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ and ‘Hobson’s Choice’, both of which I found drab, grim and depressing. But we also, if I remember right, read Roald Dahl’s autobiography, which was absolutely fascinating.

I think I would suggest that every schoolchild reads Charlottes Web, because there a lot of depth in that book, about friendship, about growing up and rites of passage, and about sacrifice, death and dignity. People pretend to kids that these things don’t exist, but death and struggle are all around us in the real world, and you can arm a child against them if they’re taught to understand things like grief and love, and how to have a conversation about them, and to learn to be brave.

And some quick-fire questions for you:

Favourite ice cream?

I’m not an ice-cream fan. You can have mine.

Marmite, yes or no?

Absolutely yes. On crumpets please.

If you weren’t a writer, what other career would you like?

I’d love to expand into screenwriting and directing, maybe acting, who knows where the path leads in the future.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

More popular, hah! I always wanted to be a writer. I’ve very single-minded

Favourite TV programme as a child?

There was a kid’s show called Knightmare, where kids had to run around CGI dungeons solving riddles and puzzles. I used to run home from school in time to tape it on the VCR. That and the Crystal Maze.

Favourite TV programme as an adult?

I’m a huge American Horror Story nut. Been here since season one. I’m a loyal veteran.

What do you put on your fish and chips?

It used to be cheese on chips when I was down south, but I’m a northerner these days, so salt and vinegar for me, and lots of it. (still not friends with chip-shop gravy though)

Sweet or salty popcorn?

Salty everything. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I could drink soy sauce from the bottle. (don’t do this though, too much can kill you)

Tea or Coffee?

Both. I don’t get people who feel the need to take sides in the tea/coffee war. It’s like the Austen/Bronte divide. I like both. Maybe I’m just greedy.

Should the death penalty apply to people who constantly talk in cinemas?

Maybe not the death penalty, but I do think cinema ushers should be able to take them out with a blow-dart and a horse tranquiliser.

If you could invite one famous person round for dinner, who would it be?

Just one? That’s tough. Maybe Tilda Swinton. I’d love to cook for her and just have her talk at me while I’m cooking.

After your family and pets, the next thing you’d rescue if your house was on fire?

I have a box in a cupboard under the stairs full of old photos, from my grandparent’s generation. I haven’t had any of them digitised yet, so I’d grab that because they’re irreplaceable. Everything else is insured.

And finally, the biggie – Pineapple on pizza, yes or no?

Sure, why not? In a world where people are smearing mushed avocado on bagels and roasting Kale, we need a little anarchy.

And on the subject of anarchy, I’d like to again wish you every success with the latest Phoebe Harkness book – and I’m sure that Paper Children will be a worthy successor to books one and two in the series – Hell’s Teeth and Crescent Moon

I’d like to say a big thank you to James Fahy for giving up his time to come and talk to us. He’s a very talented writer and all-round nice guy and if you’d like to follow his Instagram page yourself or find out where to buy his books, then all his links are below.

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Wheels on Fire!

This week I want to talk about the cars I’ve owned over the years. Now, don’t get me wrong, I can look at a nice car and go “mmm” just as much as the next person, but pay out three years wages to buy a status symbol car? Nope. Never. Even if I had that kind of cash lying around, I doubt very much, I’d ever waste it on what is basically just a mode of transport, one step up the evolutionary ladder from a pony and cart. And I don’t understand those who do. It’s a car, get over yourself, and telling me straight away what type of car you drive and what horsepower it is, well, to quote Shania Twain – “That Don’t Impress Me Much”.

Of course, cars need to be a comfortable ride, reliable, safe and economical, but you can get all of those things without paying out a small fortune, and as for those people who get caught in the sticky web of finance deals and pay hundreds of pounds every month just to have the latest version – well, a fool and his money are soon parted.

Over the years I have owned precisely six cars, which considering I’ve been driving since I was 19 is not bad. It took me a while to pass my driving test, four attempts to be honest, and that wasn’t because I found it hard to learn, but because I fell apart in the test. Quaking with nerves, I’d do stupid things that would have my lovely driving instructor shaking his head with disbelief when I got back clutching yet another fail notification. Finally, on the fourth attempt, I took the test with a raging temperature, a throat that felt like sandpaper and a head that was threatening to explode. I didn’t care if I passed or failed, I just wanted to get it over and done with so I could go back to bed. Of course, taking the pressure of myself meant I passed with flying colours.

My first ever car was a Ford Escort Mk1 1300 four door saloon in metallic bronze. Built like a tank, it was in immaculate condition and had hardly any mileage on the clock despite being reasonably old. The engine was as clean as a whistle, as was the paintwork, and I cut my teeth in that car. It cost £600 which back in the 1980’s was a lot of money for such an old car. My dad bought it because of its pristine condition, low mileage and because he knew its provenance. The deal was, my parents would have use of it while I was learning to drive. During that time, I would make monthly payments to pay off £300 of its cost. Once I’d passed my test, the car would become mine completely. As it took me almost two years to pass my test, my parents had a second car for that long for only £300, so a pretty good deal for everyone.

It was a clunky though sturdy car, with a face only a mother could love. There was no power assisted steering, if you took it over sixty miles per hour the force threatened to shake your arms from your sockets, and there were no rear seat belts. But I loved that car. It didn’t matter that I felt like I’d done an aerobic workout on my arms every time I drove it, it offered me freedom and independence. Living out in a small village with an irregular bus service, having my own transport was gold.

The Shed – Much loved

That car went everywhere, I drove it to Kent on holiday and up to Hull to visit my boyfriend’s family, and it took it all in its stride. Maybe it wasn’t the quickest mode of transport in the world, but it was certainly the most reliable and the most economic.

As it was brown and usually full of crap, my friends christened my car the Shed and teased me about its old-fashioned appearance, and the fact it was so noisy when travelling at speed the radio had to be cranked up to full blast to hear it. It became habit that the passenger would automatically turn the volume down as we slowed down, in order to save our eardrums from being shattered when the engine noise suddenly dropped, and the full force of the music would hit us. Once, the rear door locks broke and the doors wouldn’t open, so my friends had to climb over the front seats to get in, clutching mini skirts to thighs and shrieking with laughter – much to the interest of my elderly neighbour who I suspect had to have a little lie down afterwards to recover from the sight.

But all good things come to an end, that little car last me from 1985 to 1997. When I got married my husband used it to get to and from work, and although I could never prove it, I think he thrashed it a little too hard and the engine blew. And that was the end of the Shed.

After the Shed, my husband decided he wanted a status symbol car, something more in keeping with the ace guy he thought he was, and he bought himself some kind of Ford turbo thing – please don’t expect any more details from me, other than it was silver and low and sleek and growled like a bear on heat when you stepped on the accelerator. Totally impractical for town – we have a lot of speed bumps around here and having to baby your car over them in case you rip your undercarriage off is a complete pain – and no good for country lanes, I hated this car with a passion.

Technically, it was supposed to be my car as well. I had paid for half of it after all, but my husband snipped and criticised me the whole time I was driving it and, in the end, made me so nervous about it that I flatly refused to drive it anymore. We had the beast for about nine months and then my husband’s parents offered us a lovely Ford Mondeo as my father-in-law was getting something smaller and easier for him to handle.

Reluctantly, my husband agreed it was too good an offer to turn down, especially as we were thinking of starting a family and the beast was a complete no-no as far as car seats and fitting a buggy in the boot were concerned. So, the beast was sold, and the nice sensible Ford Mondeo joined the family.

I didn’t mind the Mondeo. It was comfortable and practical, a nice smooth ride which behaved itself very well over the next couple of years, including managing two holidays in Cornwall with lots of driving about on very twisty steep roads. However, I always felt it was a little too big for the road we live on. There’s residential parking up our street and spaces are extremely limited and purely on a “first come, first served” basis. On numerous occasions we’d try our hardest to get into the last space available, before having to give up and watch in seething frustration as our neighbour’s mini side stepped into it.

Time ticked by, I had Miss F in 2003 and the Mondeo was the perfect family car, roomy enough to fit all the paraphernalia one small baby seems to need just to be taken seven miles down the road to visit her grandparents. Then my marriage fell apart and I was left with a one-year old baby and a mountain of debts.

My ex-husband was struggling to pay any child maintenance and I accepted the Mondeo in lieu of two months maintenance, despite the fact it had been a gift to us both, was now in dire need of repairs and that he’d also left with me a pile of other debts. This was in September 2004. The following January I was driving Miss F home from a birthday party in a nearby town when the car suddenly slowed to ten miles an hour on the motorway. Nothing I did would convince it to go any faster, so I limped home with my foot flat on the floor and other cars speeding past me on the motorway honking their annoyance. I got home and phoned my mechanic, who told me it sounded like the clutch, and that once the clutch goes in an automatic that was it, the car was done for.

So, I went to bed that night feeling a bit grim. I couldn’t afford a new car, and as it was natural wear and tear, I wouldn’t be able to claim on the insurance. In the middle of the night, I was awoken by the sound of a car roaring at speed down our road and then a very loud crunch, like metal on metal, before the car revved up and roared off into the night. Next morning, when I went to get my daughter’s pushchair from the boot of the car, I discovered the whole driver’s side had been removed from boot to bonnet – that must have been the sound I heard in the night. I telephoned the insurance company, who sent an inspector and wrote the car off on the spot. I didn’t get much in the way of insurance – it was an old car after all – but anything was better than the nothing I was expecting.

My next car was a dear little Vauxhall Astra hatchback in a sort of metallic peachy pink bronze colour. I bought that early in 2004 and it was a good and faithful workhorse for us. It was reliable, sturdy, nippy and very cost effective. Requiring hardly any repairs, it sailed from MOT to MOT costing me very little in between. I have very fond memories of that car, although its demise has gone down in family history as being the most spectacular car exit ever.

It was early one Monday morning in 2012. I was rudely awoken at 5am by the sound of someone pounding frantically on my front door. Pulling on my dressing gown, I stomped irritably downstairs and threw open the front door to find my neighbour from across the street standing there clad only in a flimsy nightie. I blinked at her in surprise. Not what I’d been expecting, I must say, and she grabbed my arm yelling at me to look at my car!

I looked at my car. My car was on fire! Yellow flames were licking at its insides and fire was oozing out of the bonnet. For a moment, my neighbour and I had a completely girlie moment on the step, where we just shrieked and did a little panicky dance. Then I pulled myself together and rushed to phone the fire brigade. Now, I’ve never had to call an emergency service before and must admit, despite the severity of the circumstances, it was very exciting but a bit daunting and the conversation with the operator went a bit like this.

“What is the nature of the emergency?”

“Fire! There’s a fire!”

“Where is the fire please?”

“In my car.”

Sigh. “Where is your car please?”

“Outside my house!”

Eventually, I calmed down enough to give them my address which is literally five minutes around the corner from the fire station. By this point, fireballs were ballooning inside the car and we could feel the heat from it. My neighbour ran to get something more covering on as lights began to snap on up and down the street and people were coming out to see what was happening.

My lodger sleeps in the basement and his window looks out onto the street, so I was concerned about smoke and fumes going into his room and ran to bang on his door. Very excited, he of course grabbed his phone and started posting updates to his Facebook page. By now the fire engine had arrived and lots of chunky men in fire breathing apparatus were tackling the blaze which was pretty impressive and very scary.

I ran to get Miss F up and we all huddled on the front step to watch, united with the rest of the street in excitement. Finally, it was over, and the fire was out. My poor car was a smoldering blackened wreck and the smell of acrid smoke and burning plastic was horrendous, making the whole house reek for days afterwards.

Wheels on Fire!

Of course, it was a write off, there was nothing left to salvage from the car and the insurance company paid me a few pennies. Again, it was an old car and unfortunately the way insurance works is they pay you what the car is worth, not what it will cost to replace it.

So, there I was, car less again. I managed a few weeks without one and wondered if we could get by permanently relying on walking and public transport. After all, we lived in the middle of town, and both Miss F’s school and my work were within walking distance. But I quickly discovered it’s just too inconvenient not having a car. The whole having to have my shopping delivered or pay out for a taxi, not being able to visit family and friends when we wanted to and never being able to go anywhere on the spur of the moment. Nope, we needed a car, but I hadn’t got much money – the insurance pay-out had only been a few hundred and was not enough to buy anything reliable.

Then my parents stepped in with a small cash gift to my brother and I, and I used mine to buy a new car. I bought it off eBay, and it seemed like a good deal, but I really wouldn’t recommend you do it that way unless you are a trained mechanic or have access to one. The car was a bright red Citroen C3 which looked beautiful but was an absolute bitch to drive. It rattled alarmingly and every time we hit a bump in the road, things would shake and move around us. It felt like I was driving a tin can and if I went at any speed, I imagined the car was running away with me. It cornered like a cow, was a pig to park and was so delicate that if the temperature overnight dropped to the point where a light cardigan was needed, the car would refuse to start in the morning.

It was considered a higher performance car, so my insurance premiums doubled, it ate petrol like it was going out of fashion, and there was a funny smell in it that no amount of air fresh seemed able to get rid of. I stuck it for six months before deciding enough was enough, it had to go.

I traded it in through a local second-hand car company who I must admit were brilliant and very fair with me. Given all its faults I didn’t think I’d get much for it and was thrilled and delighted when I saw what they offered me. A 1996 Nissan Micra automatic in British racing green. Absolutely immaculate inside and out, and with only 26,000 miles on the clock, it had had only one owner, the anecdotal little old lady, and it had been kept in a garage all its life and serviced every two thousand miles. It was a gem. Lovely upholstery, it smelt nice and handled beautifully. A comfortable, sturdy and reliable little car that we took to right from day one. My daughter christened it Basil because of its colour, and for the past seven years it has served us faithfully.

Most years it sails through the MOT with minimal repair work necessary, but last time I was advised it needed about £150 worth of welding underneath to ensure it would pass the following year. I really did mean to get it done, I honestly did, but the year has flown by and I somehow never got round to it, and suddenly it was the beginning of October and my MOT was due at the end of the month and I still hadn’t got it done. Deciding I really needed to get it booked in, I found the folder where I keep all the car details and pulled out last year’s MOT paperwork, only to find my memory had let me down as usual. Far from being due the end of October, it had been due the day before! Panicked, I called my garage to see what they could do.

They could fit the car in for a MOT that afternoon, but there certainly wasn’t time to carry out any welding. But what about if it failed, which it probably would do, given their insistence last year it would without the welding. Well, then I would have ten days to affect the necessary work and submit it again for the MOT. Oh, right, well can I still drive the car in those ten days. No, it would have to be off the road. Now I was really panicking. Not only do I now need my car to get to work, I also had to get Miss F to her work placement nearly a 40-minute drive away. But there was no time to do anything else, so I took Basil to the garage and left him there, convinced when they called it would be to tell me the patient was terminal.

It was a long hour before they called with amazing news. Basil, bless his little spark plugs, had pulled through for us and sailed through the MOT needing nothing more than a new bulb. But what about the welding I asked? Well, they replied, he still needs it but because you haven’t done many miles it hasn’t deteriorated to the point where it has to be done. Maybe by next year though… yeah, well, next year is a long way away, a lot can happen between now and then.

You can imagine how relieved I was that instead of £150+ bill, it ended up only costing me £58 for another year’s worth of motoring. Thank you, Basil, I may even give you a wash to say thank you.

Thank you for joining me again this week, and I hope you’ve enjoyed my trip down automobile memory lane.

All the best.

Julia Blake

Plague, Pack Rats and Puppies!

We’ve gone down with the plague in the Blake household, well, Miss F has got a nasty cough and cold and hasn’t been to college this week, which is unfortunate as it’s only her third week but couldn’t be helped. Always seems to happen after the long summer break, doesn’t it? The kids go back to school and bam, the ever-popular game of pass the pestilence begins. So, we’ve painted the red cross on the door, and I’ve been desperately hoping I don’t get it – I simply don’t have the time and can’t afford to be ill. But as she’s been coughing over absolutely everything and has been plagued with the most violent and unexpected sneezes that she seemed incapable of catching in a tissue, I suppose it was inevitable that I’d wake up Saturday morning with shaky legs and a throat that feels like it’s lined with razorblades.

Bugger. I hate being ill and I’m the world’s worst patient. I get so frustrated at all the stuff piling up around me that needs to be done. Usually, I’m incredibly robust when it comes to fighting off infection, so I’ve dosed myself up this morning with black tea and honey – my go to remedy for sore throats – increased my daily dose of Vitamin D (look it up, recent research shows it does more to prevent colds than the flu jab) and I’ve got lots of good hearty, healthy food to eat. Stuff a cold! Fingers crossed I mange to head this one off at the pass. Here in the UK most of us don’t get paid for the first three days of being off work sick, and even after that it’s only a miserly £3.50 per hour sick pay, so I really can’t afford the cost of being ill.

I’ve only once in recent years been ill enough to have time off work, and that was three years ago when I had to have some seriously scary abdominal surgery – during which we discovered I am very allergic to morphine – anaphylactic shock – nasty, really don’t recommend it, and necessitated three weeks strict rest lying down as much as possible. Beforehand, Miss F had been confident she could look after me, and for my first few days out of hospital she was puffed up with her role as chief Florence Nightingale. Never have pillows been plumped so much or so many cups of tea been made for one woman.

But she got real bored, real quick with this and by day four it was – “are you STILL not better?” – and it had to be gently explained to her, that no, mum was really, really, unwell. This was a completely foreign concept to her. Mum is never ill. Up until then, if I did ever feel under the weather, I just swallowed down an aspirin and soldiered on. As a consequence, Miss F believed me bulletproof, and the truth that I was just as vulnerable as anybody else shocked and scared her.

For the first time in her life, she learnt the hardship of duty and responsibility, that sometimes there are things you don’t want to do, but you have to, because there’s nobody else to do it. My mum helped out where she could, dad came around and vacuumed the house a couple of times. Having had plenty of warning, I’d blitzed the house from top to bottom and got up to date with all the laundry. I’d also had manic cooking sessions and filled the freezer full of home cooked meals ready to be pulled out and reheated. Everything to make it easier for Miss F had been done, but, the daily care of me was on her – and this shocking revelation hit her on day four.

To her credit, she pouted for a bit, then pulled herself together and accepted that for the next three weeks at least, this was simply the way it had to be. It had been explained to her that I wasn’t to move too much, that moving could rip my stitches inside and cause massive internal bleeding, that I could end up back in hospital, or worse, if I tried to do too much. I am proud to say she took this on the chin, took a deep breath and just did what had to be done.

Now, before you all start reporting me to social services, be aware that all she had to do was heat already cooked meals in the evening, load and unload a dishwasher, generally keep the place tidy, and put laundry into the washing machine and tumble dryer. I wasn’t exactly expecting her to sweep chimneys or re-tile the roof.

Halfway through the second week she had an epiphany moment. Coming into the lounge she perched on the end of the sofa and looked seriously at me.

“Mum?”

“Yes?”

“Don’t you ever get sick of it?”

“Sick of what?”

“Well, you know, everything. The constant having to load and unload the dishwasher, the fact there’s always washing, and that no matter how much you tidy up, there’s always something else to do, and then the whole having to think about what to cook for dinner every single evening! I mean, you do it one night, and that’s fine, but then there’s the next night, and the next, and the next, for like, forever! So, don’t you ever really, really, get sick of it?”

“Oh sweetheart, welcome to the world of being a woman.”

I think it did her good, this realisation of just how much I do everyday that goes unnoticed, unthought of and unappreciated. For the first time she realised there were no such thing as laundry fairies who magically took the dirty clothes from her basket (or the floor, whatever) and washed, dried and ironed them and then magicked them back into her drawers. That dinner always had to be thought of, and that someone had to keep on top of basic necessities like cat food and toilet rolls – ran out of those on evening seventeen, luckily there were boxes of tissues in the house!

A valuable lesson to learn at any age, I think.

So now I’m sipping another cup of tea with honey and hoping that if I pace myself today and eat and drink lots of good things, I will be well enough to return to work tomorrow. Actually, whether I’m well enough to go or not, I will be going. It’s crazy, they tell us all not to go to work when we’re ill because we spread infection to our co-workers, yet because we don’t get paid for being responsible, none of us can afford to be. Something to think about, government?

Anyway, this week has been another busy one. Taking advantage of the fact Miss F has been home, I’ve been able to tick another item off my perennial to-do list and have had a massive de-clutter of the entire house, including her bedroom and den – something I wouldn’t have been able to do without her being present to supervise. Three large bags have gone out to the bin, there’s a massive pile of stuff in the corner of my bedroom to eBay and four bags of stuff not good enough to sell but too good to throw away have been taken to the charity shop.

Now, I’m not particularly a pack rat. Sure, I have stuff, but I’m not one of those people who hoards useless clutter for years, and every now and then I do a major sweep through the house and ditch the unwanted, and, if I can, make a few pennies selling it. But this was the ultimate de-clutter, the real “hardening your heart and if you’ve not even thought about it in over a year, get rid of it” purge.

We used to go to a lot of fancy-dress parties and even the odd cosplay event, so as a consequence had drawerfuls of accessories and wigs and dress up stuff. But we haven’t done anything like that in years and, to be honest, a lot of the stuff simply wouldn’t fit us now anyway. So, out it all came and was sorted into three piles – bin, sell, donate – and I then spent almost a whole day putting it all on eBay, figuring now was the perfect time to try and sell it what with Halloween coming up.

I was a big Doctor Who fan back in the day and had a cupboard full of retro Dr Who VHS tapes I’d bought when at the height of my craze. I don’t even have a video player anymore, so why was I keeping them? Looking on eBay, I see they’re going for respectable amounts, so they’re all going as well.

Then there’s hundreds of DVDs, some still wrapped, and I’m actually shocked at the sheer waste of money, all those £10’s here and there spent on films I probably only watched once, if that. Adding it all up I can’t help but think if I’d kept my money in my bank account, I’d be a lot better off now. But what’s done is done, and all I can do is see how much I can get for them. Probably not much. In these days of Netflix, Sky and Amazon Prime, most films and TV series are available at the click of a button. No need to buy a physical copy to take up space when it’s all in cyber space.

Do we all do this? Be pack rats and acquire stuff for the first half of our lives, only to spend the second half trying to get rid of it all? But I do feel better for having had a bit of a life laundry, the house feels bigger and all the drawer and cupboard space we’ve freed up is useful, what with having a growing teenage girl in the house who needs more clothes for her ever developing life.

Speaking of Miss F and her ever developing life, remember how a couple of weeks ago I told you we were trying to find her 150 hours of unpaid work in an animal environment to run alongside her college course? Well, I was beginning to despair we’d ever find anywhere, but then a new friend she’s made at college told her she’d recommended her to the owners of the farm she’s doing her own 150 hours on. The outcome of this recommendation was that Miss F began yesterday at a farm about thirty minutes outside of town. She’ll be doing 9am to 2pm every Friday, so that means I spend two hours in the car ferrying her there and back, but hey ho, the things we do for our kids, right?

I’m beyond relieved she’s found something, and she seemed to really enjoy herself yesterday. Despite being full of cold, she was determined to go – not wanting to let them down on her first day – which I quite agreed with. Sometimes, a girl’s gotta do, what a girl’s gotta do. They are primarily a stable, so lots of equine experience, and they also breed border collie puppies, which is lovely, but at the same time a bit of a nuisance.

You see, Miss F loves dogs, so the chance to look after dozens of squirming adorable puppies is wonderful for her. But Miss F also badly wants a dog of her own, she has always wanted a dog, and every now and then carries out a renewed campaign of pressure to persuade me to let her have a dog. So being surrounded by squirming adorable puppies has reignited her desire to have one of her own.

Now, we live in a tiny house with a tiny courtyard garden in the middle of town. I’m quite poor (see above about selling all my goods and chattels) and I’m out at work a lot. None of these factors are conducive to having a dog. Also, there’s the fact I do not wish to pick up dog poo, ever, I just have no wish to do that. And I think that’s quite an important consideration, this burning desire not to have to scoop up dog poo and carry it in one of those disgusting squishy bags before depositing it in a stinking bin, in the decision whether to get a dog or not. Because, and let’s sensible about this, although the dog may technically belong to Miss F, it would be me who’d have to pay for its food, insurance and medication. It would be me cleaning up the house after it, and it would mostly be me having to take it for walks – and that brings us right back to my statement – I do not want to pick up dog poo.

Miss F knows this, and for the most part understands. There’s also now the fact that in less than two years-time she’ll be off to university and then onto her life, leaving me – and the dog – behind. So, I’d definitely have to pick up its poo then, and I don’t want to. Yet still, we occasionally have conversations that go something like this.

“Mum.”

“What?”

“Can I have a dog?”

“No.”

“Oh please, I really, really want a dog.”

“What sort of dog?”

“I want an Australian shepherd dog with beautiful blue eyes, and I’d call it Blue, or something like that, and I’d love it so much.”

“Blue is a stupid name for a dog, and Australian shepherd dogs are enormous and need an incredible amount of space and exercise. Be sensible, at least.”

“What would be sensible?”

“Well, if I was going to have a dog with the kind of lifestyle we live at the moment, I’d have a little chihuahua and I’d call it Betty.”

“Why Betty?”

“I like the name Betty. Betty is an awesome name for a dog.”

“So, if I said I wanted a little chihuahua and that I’d call it Betty, could I have a dog?”

“No.”

You get the drift? Driving her home after her first session there yesterday, the whole “Please may I have a dog” conversation restarted. To which the answer is still no, because, I really, really do not want to pick up dog poo.

And now it’s Saturday afternoon again, and I’ve just sneezed – twice – so it’s not looking good, but at least my blog is written and once again I’ve gone from not knowing what to say to actually talking quite a lot.

Hope you are all well, and that the coming week is a good one for you. As ever, I really do appreciate any comments you’d like to make either on here or on social media, and I look forward to our chat next week.

Best Regards

Julia Blake

Surprise! Unexpected Guests and a Sleepover

I had four days off in a row this week. Four days in which there was nothing urgent that had to be done, so I planned a whole check list of those niggly little jobs I’ve been putting off for ages. It was quite a long list comprising of emails to answer, phone calls to make, and letters to respond to. Earlier in the week I’d received a letter from H.M. Revenue Customs & Excise informing me of a completely unexpected small tax refund! Whoop whoop! Which if I did nothing about, I’d receive in two months, but if I went onto the website and claimed it, I’d receive it straight into my bank account in five days. Hmm, which option shall I go for? So, I had that to attend to as well, because obviously I’d rather get that money in five days.

I also wanted to do a complete sweep of the house, going through every drawer, cupboard, storage basket and box dividing everything into three piles – rubbish, so throw it away; good enough to sell, so eBay it; and not good enough to sell but too good to chuck, so charity shop it.

I was quite looking forward to it, finally decluttering the house would make my mind feel more at ease, I thought. And, of course, I had my blog to write, so would leisurely put that together over the four days. Pacing my few tasks nicely, it would leave me with lots of time to pootle about in the garden, read and spend time with Miss F.

I should have known really, shouldn’t I?

Have you ever been in that situation when you grandly make the statement – “Oh, if ever you’re in my neck of the woods, do drop in” – and then they do! Well, that kind of happened this week. Obviously, being an author with public social media sites I have a lot of friends and followers on both Instagram and Facebook. Some stay mere acquaintances, whereas others become more than that, they become friends, even though you’ve never actually met them, and they tend to live on the other side of the world. One such friend has been following me on Instagram for I guess two years now and when she announced that her and her husband would be touring the UK and Europe for a year, I uttered the above statement.

A few weeks into their trip, she messaged saying they might be passing by at some point but would let me know. Then a week ago we had quite a long discussion about the possibility of them staying locally, but prices for accommodation in the South of England are quite high, so there was a question about whether her visit would happen or not, and she ended with promising to keep me informed. She then vanished off radar for a week, and despite a couple of enquiry messages from me, remained MIA.

Sadly, I concluded that the cost of staying had rendered their visit impossible, and assumed I’d hear from her at some point when they’d left the UK and were touring Europe. So, I made my plans as above, and got home from work Tuesday evening looking forward to my long weekend and enjoying a much-needed glass of wine as I relaxed with Miss F after dinner watching Netflix and chilling.

So, you can imagine my surprise, when a notification pinged, and it was my friend. Surprise surprise! They were staying in the AirBnB next door and were at that moment having dinner at a restaurant just around the corner and when could we meet up?! Gulp!

For a moment I panicked. Like most of us oldies, once my plans are made, I dislike anything that upsets them. But I rallied my Dunkirk spirit and issued an invite for coffee next morning, thinking we’d figure everything out then.

And it was fine. Of course, it was fine. I really liked them, they were a delightfully kind and quirky couple. I hope they liked me. I took them on a tour of Bury St Edmunds, we had lunch in the cathedral garden and the weather was on its absolute best behaviour. It was beautifully warm and sunny, and my town put on its best “company” face. Wednesday evening, I cooked a traditional English roast dinner for them, and a fun evening was had by all.

Thursday the weather was even hotter, with skies of the bluest blue, more than enough to make several sailors several pairs of trousers! So I loaded them into my tiny car and took them to Ickworth Park, which is a lovely stately home and garden only a five-minute drive away.

It’s a beautiful place, with acres of parkland, ornamental gardens, a café and a stumpery, and of course there’s the house itself. Built in the Regency period, it has a stunning rotunda which sadly is being renovated at the moment so is covered with a very impressive amount of scaffolding, but still gave hints of how magnificent it is.

We got “lost” in the woods, picked and ate wild blackberries as we walked, had a very large lunch in the orangery and I introduced my friend to sticky toffee pudding, which judging by the happy noises she made whilst eating it, she enjoyed very much.

We wandered around the inside of the house, looking at all the fabulous artwork and antiques, and finished with a stroll about the garden and stumpery. Before clambering back into my car and trundling home after a full day of walking which had left us all exhausted.

Amazing fungi seen in the woodland

Thursday morning, I ran them to the station, and we said goodbye with promises to stay in touch and meet up again. The staying in touch bit I’m sure we will, but as to whether we’ll ever meet again, who knows if they’ll ever be in my “neck of the woods” again, or if I’ll ever be in theirs. But, like I said, who knows. Life is large and full of surprises.

Talking of surprises, this is the conversation I had with Miss F on Wednesday afternoon as I was cooking the meal for us all.

“It’s lucky they’re coming tonight and not Friday.”

“Not really, why? It wouldn’t have made any difference.”

“Sure, it would, I mean, it would have been awkward, what with having all my friends over for a sleepover.”

“Wait! What? Sleepover? What sleepover?”

“The one I’m having Friday night.”

“Well, when were you going to run it past me?”

“Mum, I did, ages ago, and you said it was fine.”

Now, Miss F is always doing this to me, springing a surprise on me and claiming we’ve already discussed it at some length, and I’ve agreed to it. And whilst it’s true I do have vague memories of chatting about a possible sleepover, nothing had been concretely agreed and it hadn’t been written on the calendar. My calendar, which hangs in the kitchen, is like the Bible to me. If something is written down on the calendar then it is real, it is actually going to happen. If it’s not, then as far as I’m concerned, it’s still only a vague concept liable to the whims of life.

like something out of pre-history – the stumpery at Ickworth Park

So, Friday rolls around, I run my friends to the station and then immediately have to start thinking sleepover. How many girls? What time are they coming? Where are they all going to sleep? We had to rush up town to buy a new blow up mattress as our old one had sprung a leak and kept deflating. Miss F’s old sleeping bag had finally been thrown away the year before, so a new one of those had to be purchased as well. Then there was the question of food, like most parents of teenagers I’ve given up on the trying to get healthy food into them all the time shenanigans, so I just gave Miss F £15 and sent her to Iceland (cheap frozen food shop for all non UK residents – I mean, I didn’t send her to the actual country of Iceland – it would have cost a lot more than £15 for a start) to buy all the pizzas, ice cream, fizzy drinks and snacks she felt one small group of girls could possibly consume in one evening.

Then we were occupied with blowing up a reluctant mattress, trying to find enough pillows for everyone and clean bed linen. Miss F’s suggestion that they occupy all the bedrooms and leave me on the sofa bed downstairs, I nipped firmly in the bud. It’s not very comfortable, and I didn’t fancy the chronic backache sleeping on it would cause, also, as I had no idea what time they’d finally hit the sack, the thought of not being able to go to bed until they did was not an appealing one.

So, a compromise was made, I would sacrifice my bedroom. Two of the girls could bunk down in my big bed, with a third on the now blown up mattress – luckily numbers had been whittled down to just four including Miss F, so that would leave her in her own room, and me on the day bed in the office. It’s actually a really sweet and cosy little room at the back of the house. It’s overlooking the garden so it’s quiet, and as it’s over the kitchen and set back from the other bedrooms, I was hopeful I wouldn’t be disturbed too much. The day bed turns into a proper single bed with a very comfortable mattress, so I felt I’d be better off in there and could go to bed whenever I wanted to.

Dragon bones?

It all seemed to work out very well. They completely trashed the kitchen putting extra toppings on the basic cheese pizzas Miss F had bought and cooking them, and I then cleared it all up once they’d vanished back into the lounge to stuff their faces, watch films and play games. I made it until midnight, curled up on the sofa in the dining room so out of their way, but on hand if needed. Happily settled with my kindle and my tablet, I finished a book and caught up on notifications on social media until the clock struck twelve, my coach turned into a pumpkin and I toddled off to my little bed, which looked very inviting in the lamplight. I read for a few moments, but the excitement and exertions of the past few days finally caught up with me and I fell asleep, not hearing a thing until I woke next morning at 8.30am, an unbelievably late hour for me! The length of my sleep proving just how exhausted I was.

Nobody else emerged until an hour later, and it transpired they hadn’t gone to bed until almost 3am! This made me doubly glad I’d turned down the offer of the sofa bed!

Question: Why is it called a sleepover when nobody actually gets any sleep?

But they all seemed to have had a good time, eating enough carb crap food to clog their systems for a week, and drinking enough fizzy to launch the Hindenburg!

Fabulous antique desk used by the housekeeper in days gone by

And now it’s Saturday afternoon again, and I am writing my blog at the last minute, again! One day I will get organised and write my blog earlier in the week, maybe even prepare several blogs in advance. This is not that day.

And what about the tax refund claim, I hear you cry. Next on the list, my friends, next on the list.

Slightly shorter blog this week, but at least I’ve made up for it with some pretty pictures of Ickworth Park, which I hope you enjoyed seeing.

And don’t forget, if you’re ever in my neck of the woods, we really must meet up!

All the best

Julia Blake

Nice Work if You Can Get It

This week Miss F had her induction week at college, which I’m delighted to report she enjoyed enormously. Her course proper starts next week for her and I think she is going to have a simply marvellous two years. When I look at all the plans they have and all the amazing animals that will be available for her to care for and learn about, I must admit to being a little bit envious!

The only fly in the ointment is that we have to find her a one day a week unpaid work placement in the animal industry to run alongside her two-year course. You’d think it wouldn’t be a problem, after all, there are a few vets and pet shops around so surely someone must want a keen, bright, hardworking college student to do all the grunt work for free. Well, you’d think… but, looking into it, there aren’t actually that many places willing to take on under 18 years olds so spaces are rare, take into consideration there are another 120 students all looking for the same thing, and you begin to understand why it’s not that simple.

On Friday, I loaded her into the car clutching a folder containing copies of her very professional looking CV and references from her old Head of Year at her previous school, and the owner of the hedgehog hospital where Miss F has volunteered this past year. And before you ask, no, her work there doesn’t count, sadly it doesn’t meet the rather exacting criteria demanded by the college.

Gamely, we drove all over town visiting any animal-based workplace we could think of – which added up to four vets, one large pet store, one small pet shop, and one aquatic and reptile store. All were very kind to her, some took her details and promised to let her know, some gave her a name and email address to contact, which she did as soon as she got home. Now, we can only wait and hope, and try to think of other places further afield to try if these all come to nothing. A position within either walking distance, or close enough for me to drive her there before I have to be at work, is desirable. Any further afield and issues of transport and a practically non-existent bus service come into play.

It’s a really big deal. If she hasn’t managed to do at least 120 hours of voluntary work in an animal-based environment by next June, she’ll be kicked off the course. No ifs, buts or maybes, no consideration given as to how well she’s doing on the course, if she doesn’t have those hours under her belt, she’ll be given her marching orders. It seems really harsh, but we still have almost a year and I’m sure something will turn up somewhere, it always does.

As well trying to find a voluntary role in an animal workplace, she’s also trying to find a little part-time job to earn herself some spending money and take the pressure off me to always have to pay for everything she wants. The college course is only on three days of the week, her voluntary placement (should she get one) will only be for a few hours a week, so it leaves plenty of time for a Saturday job.

Unlike the voluntary placement, this job can be anything, so we had fun Friday afternoon going through all the “Help Wanted” adds and applying online (as it seems that’s how it’s done nowadays). Luckily, we live right in the middle of town and a minutes-walk away is a large shopping centre with lots of shops all looking for part-time assistants. She’s applied for about a dozen to start with in a wide range of retail establishments. We looked at waitressing work, but they all seemed to involve working until really late in the evening, which I wasn’t too keen on, and given Miss F’s ability to trip over thin air, we decided not to apply for any this go round.

Helping her apply, preparing her CV for her, and aiding in finding the right words to pad out her almost non-existent experience, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my first job, all those years ago. In 1981 I was 14 years old, and one Saturday my mother dragged me out of bed early, made me put on my smart skirt and jacket, drove us to town, then proceeded to march me all the way around it forcing me to go into every shop we passed enquiring if they had any need of a Saturday girl.

Scarlet with mortification, by the third or fourth shop I had gathered myself together enough to actually raise my voice above a mumble and look the shopkeeper in the eye when I enquired. Some said no, some took my details, some were dismissive, one or two were downright rude, but with my mother’s foot planted firmly on my backside, I persevered, until we’d enquired in some forty or so shops.

We drove home seemingly unsuccessful and I went to get changed, completely fed-up and convinced I was so useless that no one would ever employ me. However, later that afternoon the phone rang, and it was the manageress of a toyshop in town. Could I start next Saturday? I could and I did, and for the next three years until I left school, I worked at Dudley’s Toys at the corner of Hatter Street every Saturday and in the holidays.

I loved it. I can honestly say it’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. Marina and Cecily, the two delightful elderly ladies who worked there, were the sweetest and kindest women possible, and took me completely under their wing. I was the “young legs” in the shop, the one who climbed down the steep steps to the cellar to bring up stock, who braved ladders to reach the highest shelves, who ran to the bank and the post office, and unpacked and priced new stock that arrived twice a week off the back of a big lorry – oh that old-fashioned pricing gun, I loved using it. Trigger happy, I could price up a whole box of Sindy accessories in under twenty minutes, and I still remember the very satisfying thunk thunk noise it made as I lined up the packets and speed shot them with the little sticky price labels.

Working with toys and children, seeing the happy faces of the kids as they piled into the shop with their pocket money to either blow it all on something from the range of lower priced items, or maybe to spend birthday and Christmas money on something bigger, or maybe to show mum exactly what it was they were hoping Santa would bring that year. We also ran a savings club for children who were saving for something extra special, but maybe didn’t have the willpower to do it at home. A big red book was kept under the counter, satisfyingly large and important looking, it was solemnly brought out when a little saver came in clutching that week’s pocket money. Carefully, I’d write their name down in the first column, how much they were depositing in the next and how much further they still had to go, they would then sign it to agree. I remember the joy when they’d finally saved enough, and the toy was theirs

One adorable pair of twin sisters both desperately wanted the “real life” baby dolls we sold, complete with a bassinet, clothing, and feeding and changing accessories. They were expensive, and they wanted one each, so every week they would come in and hand me almost all their combined pocket money. Eventually, they’d saved enough for the first doll and had somehow worked out between them whose doll it would be – the other would be allowed to play with it but would always know they weren’t the real mummy. Eyes gleaming, they took the doll home, only to be back the following week to start saving for the other.

I was working in the shop when the Star Wars craze was at its height. I hadn’t seen the first two films, much to my disgust. My mother made it plain she had no interest in “stupid science fiction stuff” and I’d had no one else to take me. I think I was the only person in my school who hadn’t seen Star Wars and its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. However, the third film was out that summer and as I had a boyfriend by then and money of my own, nothing on earth was going to stop me seeing Return of the Jedi. Of course, the shop sold the figures and collectibles, as did the other two toyshops in town and quite a few places like Boots and WH Smiths as well. However, nowhere had anticipated quite how in demand these figures would be, and one week after the film opened in the tiny cinema in town – the queues stretched into infinity and as the cinema only seated about 150 a lot of people had to wait for the next showing – everywhere, including us, had run out. Not a single figurine was left, even the less popular ones had all been snapped up by kids desperate to buy anything related to the film.

It was the summer holiday, so I was working extra days and on the Friday afternoon, much to our surprise, three large boxes arrived that we hadn’t anticipated. Upon opening them, we discovered it was Star Wars figures, lots and lots of them, and not just the “third alien from the left” bog standard ones, but the main ones too. Luke Skywalker, Harrison Ford, Princess Leia, Dath Vader – they were all there. Somehow, our order had got through and we got the last consignment in the warehouse. As far as we knew, we were now the only suppliers of these highly desirable collectables in town. Taking my trusty pricing gun in hand, I made short work of pricing them all up, and promised to get them all out on display as soon as I got to work in the morning,

Travelling into work on the bus the next day, it was packed with the usual hordes of children heading into town on a Saturday morning and looking forward to hanging around with their mates, going down the park to play on the swings or going to the cinema. Idly eavesdropping, my ears pricked up when I heard one young lad moaning to the others how he’d been saving all his pocket money to buy Star Wars figures but, of course, as they were currently rarer then hens teeth, he hadn’t been able to buy any.

“We’ve got some for sale,” I casually mentioned. There was an instant hush over the whole back seat as every boy stopped what they were doing and looked at me.

“What?”

“Yeah, I work at Dudley’s and we had three big boxfuls delivered yesterday. I’m going to put them on display as soon as I get to work today.”

“Really? You’ve got Star Wars figures?”

“Yep.”

“Ah, I bet you’ve only got the rubbish ones, that’s all anyone’s been able to get for weeks.”

“Nope, we have the good stuff, Luke, Leia, the droids, Yoda, ewoks, all of them.”

The bus then pulled into the station and I got off, dismissing the incident from my mind I hurried to work and proceeded to get all the figures up on the racks with a few minutes to spare before opening time. Letting up the door blind and turning the sign from “Closed” to “Open”, I heard Marina exclaim in surprise and hurried to see what was wrong.

There were hundreds of them!

Somehow, the jungle drums had been beating and it looked like every single kid in town was now in a queue outside our shop. Bearing in mind this is long before the advent of mobile phones, somehow the news had travelled that Dudley’s had Star Wars figures and here they all were, jingling their coins in their pockets, all patiently queuing and waiting for us to open.

By the time I went home that evening, every single figure – even the rubbish ones – had been sold. It was another two months before the supply problem was resolved and we all got Star Wars merchandise delivered again, but by then the impetus was over, the craze had abated and never again did we have such a morning as we did that Saturday – when we were the only shop in town with Star Wars figures.

I truly loved my first job, it set such a high standard that no job ever since has ever really reached it. But sadly, all good things must come to an end, I left school and had to find “proper” employment, which I did, but that was a whole different experience and one I’ll maybe save for another blog.

If anyone is wondering how launch day for book nine went, the answer is very well. Despite not having any money to spend on advertising and promoting, Chaining Daisy smashed into the top one hundred bestsellers in its category and reached number 51, which is an incredible achievement. It also ranked number six in the hot new releases chart.

After being published less than four days, Chaining Daisy has an impressive six 5-star reviews on Goodreads, and people seem to be really enjoying this gritty, heart-wrenching read.

But it’s getting late – both cat and child have appeared from nowhere plaintively demanding food which I must supply. Oh, and you’ll be pleased to hear Skittles seems to have recovered from her road trip hell as talked about in last week’s blog. Hopefully, she’s learnt her lesson.

Lovely chatting to you again, have a great week, and I’ll see you all next Sunday for another Little Bit of Blake.

Best wishes

Julia Blake

I have a very good reason why there’s no blog this week – honest!

It’s been a really busy week. As many of you may know, book nine, Chaining Daisy, is being released next Wednesday, and those of you who understand a little about the life of a writer will know that means manic and frenzied preparations are going on all around.

I did have every intention of still blogging, I even had a subject matter in mind, but as the days crept by I’ve been caught up in a tsunami of interviews, prepping promo posts, setting up the eBook for pre-order on Amazon, checking one last time that everything is perfect, arranging for reviews to be posted on launch day and generally soliciting help and support from whomever is prepared to offer it, time got away from me and suddenly it was Saturday afternoon and the blog was still unwritten. No problem, I thought, I know what I’m writing about so it’ll only take an hour or so to hammer out my words of wisdom and upload it onto the blog site.

I should have known really, shouldn’t I?

At about 2.45pm Saturday the phone rang, and a conversation ensued that went something like this:

“Hello, is that Ms Blake?”

“Yes.”

“Ah, good. Tell me, has your cat gone missing?”

I paused to think about this, because the word missing is very subjective. True, our dear little black moggy Skittles had been missing in action since the previous day, but she did sometimes do this. She’d worry us silly by not appearing at mealtimes and have us searching the street and the neighbours gardens, only to saunter in without a hair out of place and declining to answer when we asked where she’d been.

“Well, we haven’t seen her since last night. Why? Have you found her?”

“Yes, she got into the bonnet of a car and went for a little ride.”

“Oh, ok, where exactly did she go for a ride to?”

“Ely.”

Now Ely is a town about a 50 minute drive from us and Skittles had ended up a fair way from home. So, Miss F and I pulled on our shoes, got down the cat basket and went on an hour and a half round trip to collect our nomadic feline from the vets where she’d ended up.

Needless to say, Skittles was VERY pleased to see us, and the vet told us some of the tale. The rest was filled in by the delightful lady whose car it was our kitty had hitched a lift in – the vets gave me her number so I could phone and thank her. Apparently, she’d come to Bury St Edmunds on Friday to do some shopping and had parked in the car park at the top of our street.

Leaving Bury late Friday afternoon, she’d driven home to Ely, then had driven to Wisbech, then home to Ely again – a round trip of approximately 100 miles. Saturday morning, the lady noticed the bulb in one of her headlights was gone, so went to replace it and was very surprised to find a little pair of dark eyes looking back at her. Help was summoned as Skittles was well and truly wedged in and showed no signs of coming out – whether she was trapped or just so frightened she couldn’t move, I don’t know. Bits of the engine were removed and hey presto, the cat was free.

But this lovely kitty guardian angel didn’t just let her run off, she phoned her local vet who told her to bring this little black hitchhiker in to be checked for injuries and to see if she was microchipped.

Luckily, very luckily, Skittles is, so the vet then made the telephone call I recounted above.

When I think of how this tale could have ended my heart goes into my mouth. There are a lot of moving parts in an engine, so Skittles is very lucky she wasn’t ripped to shreds. Being driven at 70mph down the motorway, she is also extremely fortunate she didn’t fall out onto the road and get run over by the cars following. She’s lucky the lady who found her didn’t just release her – so far from home there’s no knowing what would have happened to her. She might have been found and taken to a vet or the local RSPCA, but then again she might not have been. Finally, she’s very lucky that we had her microchipped so the vet simply scanned her and found our contact details.

But she’s home now, and has been cuddled, fed and watered. We’re going to keep her in for a couple of days to make sure she’s not too traumatized by her experience, so I’ve had to go and buy a litter tray which she eyed with disgust, before bashing at the locked cat flap and plaintively demanding her release.

Will she learn from this? I hope so! Heaven only knows where she might end up next time.

I’m sorry this is such a short blog, but under the circumstances I think I can be forgiven. If anyone is interested, Chaining Daisy will be released as a stunning paperback, an ebook and will be on Kindle Unlimited next Wednesday.In the meantime, it is available to pre-order at a special introductory price.

The sequel to Becoming Lili, it reduced one editor, three beta readers and two arc readers to floods of tears, and even made me cry when I was writing it, so if you have read Becoming Lili and want to know how the story continues for Lili and her friends, then why not buy yourself a copy.

Chaining Daisy – Book Two of the Perennials Trilogy and
the beautiful sequel to Becoming Lili

I hope you have a great Sunday and I’ll see you as usual next week, when I promise things should be back to normal – well, normal for me!

Best Wishes

Julia Blake

Passes, Paperbacks and Parks….. A typical week for Julia Blake

It’s been a busy and stressful couple of weeks since we last chatted, and there were moments when I was literally ripping my hair out in chunks. I’m in the final stages of publishing book nine, and as any author knows, it can be a frustrating, arse ache of a process, in which the Law of the Sod definitely applies – in that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong!

Also, in my news, exam results were released, and Miss F went back to her school to collect them last week. Full of trepidation, convinced she’d managed to stuff the lot, her heart was in her mouth as she opened the envelope which contained her future. I never really had any doubts that she would pass and pass well. Anyone who has worked as hard as she has over the past two years and put as much effort into revision as she did, can’t possibly have failed. And of course, she didn’t. I’m happy to report that she passed all eleven subjects, with a mix of mostly As and Bs, and a couple of Cs in Physics and Chemistry – “we hates them!”

Now, a lot of parents expect the absolute best from their children, and at least one set of parents we know are paying for papers to be re-graded because their little darling got a B+ instead of the A they felt they deserved. I’ve never put that kind of pressure on Miss F. Now, don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I didn’t expect her to work and work bloody hard to get good grades. But I asked her to do HER best, not be THE best. At the end of the day, I think that’s all you can reasonably expect from anyone, that they do the best they can.

We’re all different and we all have different strengths and weaknesses. Miss F’s nemesis is physics, and over the years I’ve seen her struggle to understand what to me seemed absolute gibberish, but she persevered. Come revision time, our house was covered with little post it notes with physics formula and equations on. Much to the complete bafflement of our little Romanian lodger, who came home from work late one night to find one stuck on his door and thought it was a note from me – “I am not understanding what this is.”

When exams finally hit, she was an absolute shaking bundle of nerves and was convinced she’d failed physics. Even though I was confident she’d done well, her own low self-confidence told her otherwise. That’s why there was much celebrating in the Blake household when she opened that envelope and found a C+ for physics. Vindication of all her hard work, and we were as pleased about that result as we were about the As in history and English, and the clutch of Bs for her other subjects. The important thing is she’s passed, with grades high enough to take up the college place she’s been offered and do the highest level of the diploma in her subject that she can.

And for those of you would like to know, Miss F wishes to be a zookeeper so is starting a Level 3 Animal Management and Care Diploma next week. She wishes then to specialise in entomology and specifically myrmecology – which isn’t the study of mermaids although oh how I wish it was, wouldn’t that be the coolest thing – but is in fact the study of ants.

As I said, I’ve been trying to publish a new book. Chaining Daisy is the sequel to Becoming Lili and is book two of the Perennials Trilogy. It’s been two years in the making, two very long years of writing, revising, amending, editing, rewriting and proofing. Non authors probably think when the words The End are written on a manuscript it’s all done and dusted. Not a bit of it. I once saw a meme of an iceberg floating in water, the tip of the iceberg was the finished book that the reader buys, but under the water the rest of the iceberg was made up of all the long, tedious process the author has to endure to get that book to that point.

So, I’m in the final stages now, that frustrating time when you’re so close to having the book ready to launch, but so many annoying, niggly, painful little snags keep leaping up to slap you round the face, that at times you’re tempted to just give up. Every book is different, some books come together so easily you dare to think you’ve cracked this getting published lark and are a professional. Other books are more feral, refusing to be caught and heartlessly laughing as they throw up problem after problem. Chaining Daisy has been the latter, so much so that I began to think it was cursed. Instead of a publisher I needed a priest equipped with bell, book and candle.

It’s a big book, just like its predecessor, it has illustrations and pretty little daisy icons on the chapter headings. Any of these can cause issues when trying to publish, all of them together – well, that’s a plan doomed to failure. For those unfamiliar with the process, you have to upload your beautifully prepared document to Amazon, who then place it into the relevant paperback setting using a template that you originally downloaded from them to prepare your document in. Now, one would think that would mean that what you see in your document is exactly what will appear in the Amazon preview. One would think…

Nope, for some reason Amazon narrow the margins ever so slightly when they get their grubby mitts on your perfect manuscript. This squeezes your paragraphs so sometimes instead of being, for example, six lines long, a rogue word or two sneaks onto a seventh line. Now, this probably doesn’t sound too big a deal, but imagine it happening several times in a chapter. It will push the pages over so instead of your chapter being ten pages long, it’s now eleven. That means instead of chapter two beginning on page eleven as it states on your contents page, it now starts on page twelve. Multiply this by the fifty or so chapters there are in the book and you begin to see the problem.

Over and over and again I had to upload the file, check it, nope still not right. Go back to my original document, go through it with a fine toothcomb tweaking the paragraphs to pull those rogue words back. Upload it again, check it, nope, still not right. Over and over until you lose the will to live.

I also had problems with the daisy icons. Most were fine. Most were well-behaved, good little daisies who did what they were told and stayed put. But there’s always one, isn’t there. One who decides to plough their own furrow and refuse to conform.

Days of my life were sacrificed to polishing this book, to making it the best I could. A lot of indie authors don’t bother. They write hard and fast, churning out books of only 50,000 words or so, barely editing them and certainly not giving them time to mature before bam, they’re on Amazon and the writer has started the next. Of course, indie authors do need to be prolific. Never has the phrase “you’re only as good as your last show” been as relevant as it is to us. A new book creates a buzz, it lifts your profile, increases your visibility, improves sales and generates fresh interest in existing titles. This is all good, but, at what price does such productivity come? Unless you are some kind of superhuman writing and editing machine who never makes a mistake, then the quality of your books will be doubtful.

Books are like fine wines or a good cheese, they need to mature. No manuscript ever suffered for being set to one side for a few weeks, or even months. When an author has first finished writing a new book they’re caught up in a frenzied whirl of relief. Reading it through straight away the rose-coloured glasses are firmly in place and it’s impossible to see through its magnificence to the flaws lurking beneath. And there will be flaws. Typos, punctuation and bits that just don’t flow. Continuity errors, plot holes and timeline problems. They will be there. It’s almost impossible to proof your own work. You know what it’s supposed to say, so that is what your brain will see. Letting the manuscript sit for a while will give you some much needed distance and allow you to view it with less prejudiced eyes.

It is my humble opinion that if you are expecting people to pay good money for your book, then it needs to be as perfect as it is possible for you to get it. I’m afraid indie authors have something of a bad reputation for producing books of poor quality, and it’s true that there are a few authors guilty of this. The sad thing is though, those few pull down and tarnish the good name of the majority of indie authors, myself included, who work tirelessly to publish books as professionally finished as traditionally published ones.

I like to make bookmarks to go with all my books and last week I sat down to produce the ones to accompany Chaining Daisy. My usual website had changed the way they operated though, as usual turning a reasonably simple process into a complicated and fiddly rigmarole that had me grinding my teeth and squinting at tiny preview images on my laptop. Finally, it was done, 250 bookmarks ordered and paid for, one more thing successfully ticked off my list.

I should have known though, should have suspected that life would stick another turd in my tea kettle. Three days later they arrived. All 250 of them. I eagerly opened the package, and for a split second I thought they were fine, before I put my glasses on and realised the black of the background behind the daisy icon was a slightly different black to the black background of the bookmark. Bugger, I thought, but it’s liveable with and one of those things that no one else will probably notice.

Then Miss F wandered in with her young, sharp eyes, picked one up and said, “why does it say – body text here – under the daisy?” I snatched it back, examined it and cursed. Yep, she was right, in black letters on the black background were the words “body text here”! Just as I was wondering how noticeable that was, I spotted the third, deal breaker error. I’d left the letter R off the word author. So, that settled that, although the irony of an author who can’t spell author, is one I can appreciate, the whole lot had to go in the bin, and I had to start again.

Finished product – front and back of new bookmarks now perfect!

As you can imagine, after all that I was a quivering pile of stress, so went to a local park with Miss F for some much-needed exercise. Nowton Park is a wonderful, sprawling park on the outskirts of Bury St Edmunds. With several tennis courts, a football pitch, a kid’s playground, a maze and a café, it’s a popular destination, but as there are over 200 acres of it you can spend hours there and never see another soul. There was just one problem though, the UK had another mini heatwave last week so after twenty minutes of walking in 35C we were both drenched in sweat and feeling the strain.

Still – stiff upper lip, never give in because we’re British and the “Dunkirk spirit” – and all that, meant neither of us were prepared to admit defeat so we did the whole circuit, before crawling home in a hot, sweaty puddle of regret, about ready to peel our own skins off and fighting over who’d be first in the shower.

And now it’s Saturday and once again it’s time to sit down and write my blog. Is it getting any easier? Maybe, certainly the whole technical side of uploading any photos and scheduling the blog I’m now more familiar with, but it’s the knowing what to talk to you about that still gives me concern. Despite the lovely messages I’ve had from so many people saying how much you all enjoy it when I simply “chat” I’m still worried that it’s not interesting enough. Although over 2000 hits so far is encouraging, as are the wonderful comments you leave.

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed my round up of what for me is a fairly typical week. Oh, and I also managed to squeeze work into that lot as well, and there’s a little funny anecdote to share with you all before I sign off. Monday was a bank holiday in the UK, so most people had the day off work, not us poor retail workers though and the day was incredibly busy, with people piling into the shop to buy. However, as most places are shut by 4pm on a bank holiday, by 3:30pm it was dead. No one was coming in and we were tidying up. All day I’d been convinced it was Sunday. It felt like a Sunday, and the customers had had that Sunday shopper vibe about them. So, at 3:55pm I washed up all the cups we’d used throughout the day, picked up my bag, clocked myself out and went home. Letting myself in the front door, Miss F raised her eyebrows at me.

“You’re home early.”

“No, it’s 4:15, I’m always home at 4:15 on a Sunday.”

“Mum, it’s Monday.”

“Shit! Give me the phone!”

I phoned work; my boss answered. Apparently, nobody had even realised I’d gone.

“Hi, it’s me.”

“Where are you calling from?! The toilet?”

“No, I’m home.”

There was a beat, then…

“Why are you home?”

“I thought it was Sunday, so I left.”

“Oh, what are you like?!”

Luckily, he saw the funny side of me blithely leaving work an hour early and as no customers had come in after I’d gone, in the grand scheme of things it didn’t really matter. However, I did have to work an extra hour on Wednesday to make up for it.

So, that’s me signing out. Hopefully next week will be less eventful, but hey, this is me, so I seriously doubt it. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday.

All the best

Julia Blake