D is for Deadlines

Calendar with Deadline Circled

Sipping Champagne for breakfast, cocktails in the afternoon, whipping off literary masterpieces on a monthly basis. That was what being a writer was going to be. No need to go into the office, no need to strive for impossible deadlines…ahh! ‘Tis the writer’s life for me.

Any type of wine in the morning has always been a fantastic start to the day for me, as long as the intention is to spend the entire day drinking more of it, to the exclusion of pretty much any other activity. Regrettably, if the intention is to do something else – say write for example, then coffee is the poison of choice.

Once over the morning beverage hurdle, there’s this thing called the internet. It’s a sort of black hole were you click on one little thing and before you know it you have two hundred notebooks coming, know all about the forthcoming Dwarf-throwing World Championships and the sun is setting.

For this writer at least – no deadlines, no writing.

In the corporate world – I was actually not bad at time management. I had ‘to do’ lists and everything. Very quickly though, working from home, I  got very crap at it.

‘Make a phone call? What, tomorrow? I can’t, I’m getting a haircut’

Entire days were given over to tasks that used to be completed in thirty seconds between ‘real’ tasks. Without deadlines, I got nothing done.

Then I did NaNoWriMoNow that’s a deadline.

Boom. 120,000 words. Done.

Deadlines are important.

C is for Creativity

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In my last post, I wrote about a growing addiction to stationery – particularly to notebooks.

With a new notebook and a full pen you can go anywhere. You can be anyone. At the end of the day – you just make it up. Yesterday, I blogged about the wonderful Bureau Direct. I must also mention Spotlight Stationeryanother company that provides gorgeous things.

I thought that finding creativity was the challenge. Overcoming the blank page.

I learned that the secret was fifty words. If on any morning, I could write fifty words, then I could write five hundred, a thousand, fifteen hundred. The key was to churn out those first fifty. That’s it! I thought. I’ve cracked Creativity. I’m a writer. Eureka!

I am learning that a writer must be many things. Creativity is a part of it for sure, but for me, it is just the first part. Once the imagination has run riot, another ‘C’ needs to step forward; the craftsman needs to emerge and fashion the writing into a novel. Then the marketeer must emerge and promote the book.

If this draft is to become my best-ever debut novel, then the craftsman is going to need to work with the creative. At the moment, I’m not sure that they are even on speaking terms.

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Find out more about it by clicking here.

Blogging from A to Z Challenge

B is for Bureau Direct

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I blogged yesterday about Amanda, my writing buddy. (Her excellent blog is here)

She introduced me to Bureau Direct purveyors of fine stationery. They have become my ‘dealers’. No, seriously – this stationery stuff is addictive.

I have graduated to the hard stuff. Daily, I am taking a big hit of notebook – in fact this post began in a Rhodiarama. I’m a habitual Rhodia user and I sometimes cut in some Clairefontaine too. To change things up, I sometimes move away from the French gear and get a bit Teutonic – there is nothing wrong with a Leuchtturm 1917 now and again. It really is that bad.

Bureau Direct understand the link between creativity and stationery. With a good notebook and a fountain pen, I can instantly transport myself to different worlds, where the only rules are ones that I decree. The website is excellent, the deliveries are prompt and the customer service absolutely superb – but have a care. Once bitten, you might find yourself compulsively going back for more. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you!

When finally, my time comes, some poor soul will be in my garage scratching his head;

“The wine, I understand. But what on earth did this guy needs thirty two thousand notebooks for?”

A is for Amanda

Amanda Fleet

Amanda is my writing buddy.

We have never met. We exchange messages on social media, by e-mail and sometimes by post.

Amanda is a woman of many talents. University lecturer, PHD, runner, stationery addict and most importantly, writer.

She is completing the A to Z Challenge – you can visit her hereHer stationery blog is worth a quick look too, but I warn you; stationery is seriously addictive. My novel needs to succeed to support my stationery habit.

Her first novel is coming out soon, in fact there is a launch event at Waterstones in St Andrews. (She is a proper author!)

I was sitting looking at two sprawling first drafts, trying to work out what the hell to do next. Amanda and I ‘met’ on Twitter. She has been incredibly generous in sharing her approach in producing a book, and unstintingly supportive. It is no exaggeration to say that without Amanda, the best debut novel that I have ever written will not ever see the light of day.

For that reason, my first post in this A to Z Challenge is a simple thank you to Amanda.

Many people are aiming to complete the A to Z Challenge – this is the list. Go and check some out, obviously Amanda’s first.

Blogging from A to Z Challenge

This is the first of 26 posts in April (Sundays we get to rest) as part of the A to Z Challenge.

Digital Overload

overload

It’s all got too much.

I have scaled the peaks of the digital life and reached the zenith. From here on, it’s downhill.

I have a Mac, a MacBook and an iPhone. I recently sold my iPad. This combination of very cool bits of kit mean that I am never more than seconds away from my Twitter feeds, (I have three) my Facebook profile, my Linkedin, my Pinterest, my Instagram. I am almost perpetually at Inbox zero. An email arrives and like a digital ninja, I am on it. Either it is responded to, archived, or deleted. I have resolved to read more – so I keep my kindle close to hand, and just in case, I have kindle apps on all of my other devices.

Should you need to get in touch, you can comment on this blog, drop me an email on one of several addresses, send me a text, message me on one of several apps and each of my machines will ding, vibrate or beep. You may rest assured that I will be aware of your communication in seconds.

I may of course, not respond instantly. I may be tied up. I may be updating my blog, scheduling my social media to tell you that I have updated my blog or even reading your blog. I may be checking that my feeds on feedly, medium, bloglovin and others that I have undoubtedly forgotten, are up to date. It is possible that I am resolving sync problems between my fitbit and my iPhone. How on earth can I lose weight if my phone is not correctly reporting daily steps? It may be that I am searching Myfitnesspal for the correct calorific value of 40g of porridge oats. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it, right?

If I am setting off for a meeting, preparations begin the night before. Laptop, iPhone, Fitbit all fully charged, chargers in bag too. (Just in case). Location of meeting entered onto device to ensure map available. Ensure that all recent communications with person that I am meeting are instantly available on all devices. I can revise on the train. Check out linked in profiles, Google +, Facebook. What music do I want? Playlists up to date? Which headphones? Noise-cancelling? Right – best check the battery levels.

Then I need to update the calendar app – which in turn will update my wife’s calendar, so that she can be sure what train I’m on, where I’m going and what for. Obviously, her life won’t be complete unless she knows this. Once I get to London, I’ll take a quick snap and post some status updates. My friends in Ireland will undoubtedly be fascinated to know what the weather is like in London.

It’s a wonder that I have any time at all for work or relationships or indeed life at all.

At some point, the machines took over. The thousands of ways that technology was helping me, became the thousands of ways that it was oppressing me.

I’m fighting back.

I have ordered a diary. A big book made of paper and card. In it, I will plan my time. What an innovator I am. In this new-fangled thing, I will block off bits of time to check my e-mail, my social media and feeds. I’ll do these things at MY convenience.

I have ordered a ‘dumb’ phone. It can make and receive phone calls. It can send and receive text messages, although only by using the numbers as a keyboard, so you should not expect too much. With only a dumb phone, I shall have to keep myself ‘connected’ only at scheduled times and at my keyboard. I fear that the world may stop turning – but I probably won’t notice without ‘notifications’.

punkt_angled

Calorie control, both input and burn. Well, I am going to eat less food. I am going to eat more ‘simple’ food and less ‘complex’ food – i.e. avoid the manufactured crap pushed at us from all sides. When I walk the dog, I’m going to count the flowers or the birds and not the steps. Maybe I’ll try to walk a little further. I’ll know its working if my clothes start getting a bit looser.

I daresay that the iPhone with all of its apps and the fitbit will be waiting for me in the desk drawer, but I’m quite looking forward to unplugging. Although…what am I going to do in restaurants while everyone else checks their phones?

 

 

A to Z Challenge

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It’s that time of year again. The A to Z Blogging Challenge.

During the month of April I will be posting 26 times – working my way through the alphabet.

You can do it too. Sign up here. I will also be visiting as many other participant’s blogs as possible.

I did it last year, and it is a great way to make me focus on actually writing something every day.

This year – I am going to do a little differently and focus on a theme rather than random ramblings.

I am going to blog about my debut novel and stealing shamelessly a joke from Author Ben Adams, I can unequivocally say that the novel will be the best debut novel ever written by me.

I can promise you honesty, posts short enough that they do not require meal breaks, and maybe, possibly, an insight or two that will make you laugh or nod sagely. I’ll take either result!

Hopefully this exercise will force me to crack on and finish the novel. Editing is a new thing for me, and I find it hard. The hardest is actually getting on with it.

And on that bombshell, I’m off for a haircut.

Comment. Agree, Disagree. I would love to hear from you.

Battling BT

Abbotts Ann Wood

Isn’t it beautiful? Spring is most definitely on the way to Abbotts Ann.

The photo has nothing to do with the post, I took it walking the dog this morning.

Happy Mothers Day to all you Mums – and especially to mine – Pat.

I always have a thought today for those not lucky enough to still have their Mum’s around. I am sure that they must all miss them a little more today.

After my recent much up with Sky (see here) I thought I had the measure of the communications giants. Then, my phone line stopped working.

I work from home, so we have two landlines. One for corporate-cobra use and the other for personal calls. It was my corporate one that was not working. There was no dial tone at all. Strangely, the broadband on that line was working fine. A distinct advantage of having two lines is that I was able to take the handset from the line that was working, and swap it with the one on the line that wasn’t. This eliminated the handset as the cause of the problem.

At this point, I channelled my highly technical training in IT Problem Resolution. Yes, I turned everything off, unplugged everything, had a cup of tea, reconnected everything and turned them on. No change. As everyone knows, an IT issue that survives the ‘turnitoffandturnitonagain’ treatment is truly serious.

Undaunted, I turned to the internet and British Telecom’s (BT) troubleshooting pages. Just as an aside – I think that BT may in fact be 35% of the internet. Their website is GIGANTIC. It is impressive that such a massive thing could be so singularly crap.

Where was I?

Ah yes. I went through the online troubleshooter. Essentially I told it the number I was concerned about and clicked ‘fire’, then the page crashed. After four or five repetitions, both the computer and I got bored. I turned everything off and on again. I tried the line test again.

“Not a clue mate. Get in touch.” I am not sure that was exactly the wording used, but it was the gist of it.

I clicked on ‘chat to us online’ and relayed my problem to the dialogue box. A response came through.

“Please wait. I’ll test the line.”

“Sorry for the delay – the test is taking a while.”

“Sorry to keep you”

“Hmm. The test doesn’t seem to be working”

I am 99% certain that the helpful fellow had been hitting the exact same ‘fire’ button as I had. Still, he was not to be deterred.

“Could you switch everything off and then on again?”

“I have tried that. Doesn’t help.”

“Oh. Perhaps I could telephone you and we could check some things together? Do you have a mobile?”

“Its OK, you can call me on my landline. The number is…”

“No sir. Your landline isn’t working. I need to call you on..”

“I have two landlines.”

“Two?”

“Yes. Two.”

“Two? In the same place?”

“Yes. One of work and one for personal use. I suspect that I am not unique.”

There was a pause.

“Ok.”

Now, my cheery friend and I were able to chat on the phone across thousands of miles.

“We need to see if the problem is with your hardware..”

“Let me stop you there. I swapped the phones over – and the phone which I am currently talking to you on, does not work when connected to the other line. So, it’s not the hardware.”

A lengthy pause.

“You have a spare phone?”

“Not spare exactly. It is the home phone, the one attached to the line that we have for personal use.”

“You have two lines?”

“Yes. I have two lines.”

“In the same house?”

The conversation was reminding me of a Monty Python sketch.

“Shall we just agree that it is not the hardware? What next?”

I’ll spare you a line by line account, but the process rambled on – with my correspondent struggling anytime I gave an answer not covered in the script in front of him. Overall, he should be commended though. He reached, and possibly even surpassed, the standard of utter uselessness required by BT – and, in his second language too. Good man.

At one point, I was unscrewing the faceplate from sockets under his instruction. When I asked what hourly rate I should invoice BT for my work, there was the familiar quizzical silence.

The call ended thus. I paraphrase.

“I have made an appointment for an engineer to visit you. I must remind you that if the fault turns out to be caused by storm damage, building work, we are and tear, psychotic mice or anything else within the boundaries of your property, BT will add a charge of £129 to your phone bill for this visit. Is that OK?”

“Certainly. In the spirit of fairness, I apply the reverse of those terms to BT. That is to say, if the fault is outside of my property, I will deduct a £129 from my phone bill.”

“Ummm…I’m not sure that…”

“Never mind. Send the engineer.”

 

Four do Rugby

Ireland-v-England

Assuming that I can work out this scheduling posts malarkey, then as this post comes out, I will be at Twickenham watching England take on Ireland in the Six Nations. The photo above comes from the Daily Mirror report on last year’s game.

I’ll be watching the game with three friends.

There is Conchita, a bearded Englishman living in Dublin, CLD, a Welshman who splits his time between South West England and Warsaw and Tone – an Englishman abroad. Vilnius, last time I checked.

Add in me, a Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Cornish mix-up in Southern England and we are quite the motley crew. We all knew each other in Prague – we played rugby together, we drank together, and to a certain extent we grew up together. In fairness, Conchita and I may have a way to go on that front.

Conchita is flying over on Friday and staying here with us, while CLD and Tone arrive on Saturday morning. They have booked a hotel for Saturday.

I daresay Conchita and I may have managed a couple of glasses of wine on Friday night. The long-suffering Mrs L almost certainly had an evening shaking her head as we talked nonsense and drank wine, lots of wine. Within about an hour of being each other’s company Conchita and I will have speech patterns will so similar as to be indistinguishable one from the other. It’s quite spooky.

The Four are gathering for a spot of lunch up near Twickenham, five or so hours before kick-off. What could possibly go wrong? (That is very much a rhetorical question.)

Once we have been fed and settled into some hop-based beverages, we will exchange some banter on the France Wales match of the previous evening. Then we will watch Scotland take on Italy in Rome. A few years ago Conchita and I took the precaution of learning the words of the Italian anthem. The thought of being caught short in a singsong was just too much for two front-row forwards to bear. I daresay that we will not be the only ones singing all of the anthems.

Before the main event begins, we will have made one hundred new friends. Any supporting England will be known as Rupert, and all supporting Ireland, as Mick. Tradition is Tradition. Our voices will be hoarse from singing (and the odd hop-based beverage) and we will be ready for the big match.

I have mentioned this before here. Rugby is a pretty special game.

Of course – I may be completely wrong. We may have had a terrible time. Writing this post in advance may have been a stupid thing to do.

But I doubt it.

On Sunday morning, the four of us will be saying, “I’m too old for this.”

 

Writing Tools

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Writing, at least for me, involves quite a lot of sitting around doing all manner of things that are not writing.

At times, I can be a world-class procrastinator. Yes, I can do ‘the gazing at a blank page’ thing. I’m even getting better at the tortured artist look, although Margaret still regards me suspiciously and asks whether I am about to fart.

However – in addition to these basic techniques, there are more advanced methods. My latest is a deep need to make sure that I have the right tools.

I have always had a bit of a thing for stationery, my inner geek has always been lurking just below the surface.

This geek has been encouraged into the open by my new writing buddy Amanda.

We ‘met’ on Twitter (how hip am I?) at #writingchat.

A writing buddy is an essential aid to the aspiring writer. More importantly, a writing buddy saves the friends and family of the aspiring writer an enormous amount of boredom. I can now ask “Do you think the three act structure will work here?” or “How do you feel about third person limited?” without being greeted by the electronic equivalent of tumbleweed.

Amanda is on the cusp of releasing a book. In fact, you can pre-order the physical paperback version right now. Just click HEREFollow the instructions and you can even get a discount on the cover price. Go! Have a look right now. Go on. I’ll wait…

Welcome back. I hope that you have ordered the book. If you are electronically inclined, you will be able to pick it up soon on Amazon, Kobo and all those good places.

Amanda also keeps a very nice BLOG where you can find some proper writing. While you are there, sign up for updates. Come to think of it, while you are here – sign up for updates too. It really means a lot to us writer-types to know that people are reading.

Recently, Amanda and I got chatting about pocket notebooks. I daresay that one day, I’ll tell you all about my notebooks – but to cut a long story short, Amanda took it upon herself to make me the notebook cover that features in the picture. It’s a beautiful soft leather.

Isn’t it gorgeous?

Swimming

Swimming Walrus

In a preemptive comment, I can confirm that the picture is not in fact of me. It is an image from a You Tube clip posted here by Heinrich Eggenfellner. Although, there is a striking likeness in a certain light.

Earlier this month I posted about my first, and last, spinning class.

Wisely, I am pursuing an exercise regime more appropriate for a man of my age and size. I am walking the dog, playing golf and swimming. Usually not at the same time. I am even paying some attention to what I eat and drink. Shocking, I know.

To call me a strong swimmer would be a little inaccurate. Alright, it would be entirely inaccurate. Rather than powering through the water like our tusky friend above, I sort of float aggressively. There is forward motion, in much the same way that glaciers do move, but you would be hard pressed to actually perceive it. You may have experienced something similar before. Lying on a beach in the morning, you might catch sight of a large tanker out to sea. It appears stationary, yet when you pack up at the end of the day, it has most definitely moved across the horizon. Watching me swim is like that, but with more splashing.

I try to tuck myself into half a lane (it gets busy where I swim) and float along without causing too much harm. I always have a cheery smile for the pensioners as they pass me, walking sideways through the water. I try to keep out of the way of the proper swimmers as they power up and down with designer clothes pegs on their noses and lycra condoms on their heads.

As the traffic passes me on both sides, I console myself that even going this slowly, I am getting some exercise, moving my muscles and burning some calories. I also have plenty of time to people-watch.

There is one fellow that is fascinating me at the moment. Like me, he is a fat boy. I see him when I am at the pool in the evenings. Usually, he emerges from the sauna, hot and flustered.

He sits himself down on a wooden lounger and pulls out a book, which he reads for ten minutes or so. (Almost a full length of the pool for me). Then he rinses himself in the shower.

This next part is the part that mystifies me. He then puts on a pair of flippers. Full-blown, honest-to-goodness scuba diving flippers. Then on goes the clothes-peg and the goggles. Into the pool, three kicks, two arm strokes and he bangs his head against the far wall. Then he turns around and does it again.

The pool is only twenty metres long. He looks like some sort of demented pin ball being fired at the far wall, before bouncing back.

Why would someone do that? Go to the pool to do some exercise, then put on flippers to avoid doing the exercise.

Don’t get me wrong – if that’s what he wants to do, then fine by me.

But why?

Perhaps I should ask him.

If I time it right, I can surely outrun a fat guy who is wearing flippers?