Monday, 27 October 2014

Shove it sugar week - Day One!

On the 26th October 2014 I weighed 71kg, my chest was 37.5", my waist was 38", my hips 39", and apparently my left thigh is half an inch bigger than my right, being 22" and 22" respectively. My biceps are a barely worth mentioning 11.5" each.

I exclaimed greatly when adorable wife measured my hips at larger than my waist, seeing as all I can see looking downwards is gut. She politely reminded me my bum was also sticking out the other side.

Photos were taken, the kind you take for your before, normally looking glum, unwashed, and all grey tones. Should I see results I presumably need to take happy smiling ones. Though I made a before faux pas by looking reasonably happy in the before. This despite the experience being a gruesome one, where I let the gut hang out in all it's glory. Honestly, if I were a lady, you might ask me when the baby is due. I'd say I have another 3 months left.

What, you cry, is the point of all this measuring and photographic shaming?

A friend asked me if I'd attend something called Shove it Sugar week at work. It was simply to accompany the first presentation so he could see what it was all about. The attendance was poor, and the lady, Sindy, was enthusiastic and inspiring, so it seemed a worthwhile idea to sign up and see if my lifestyle is below par.

Not that I needed someone to tell me that was the case. Frankly I spend most of my work life on a chair, and then come home to spend most of the evening on the couch, watching TV, or in the current case, writing on the laptop. Since getting the car I've stopped walking to work, and despite a valiant effort to become a jogger, once the weather turned nasty I wimped out.

As far as food was concerned, I was pretty confident that I wasn't a terrible eater. I don't put sugar in my hot drinks, don't indulge in biscuits and sweet treats, and am not really a fan of junk food. That said, Asian cooking, although it can be healthy, can also be very oily, and you usually leave the fat on meat when cooking. We also have white rice with pretty much every meal. And we do occasionally treat ourselves to a nice unhealthy desserts, bad things, bad bad things. I mean, not serial killer bad. Though one could argue that sugar is currently a serial killer, the ultimate bad guy!

Today was the beginning. We're supposed to cut out sugar for the next five days. I don't think that will be too much of an issue for me, I'm not big on sweetening everything I eat or drink. Next, we've been given a list of good foods, though this is not a diet, just a suggestion of healthy foods to eat. Mostly it's about cooking a decent breakfast, and eating lots of leafy greens, partnered with something meaty.

For my breakfast I tried to make a mushroom omelette, but in my morning haste I left the egg on the pan too long and it ended up far too dry. The only way I managed to chew my way through it was to sip coffee in-between mouthfuls. It was only pointed out to me later in the day that coffee was not on the menu for breakfast. Caffeine is another drug that should be limited. So green teas and water from now on!

I ate nothing else until lunch, only drinking water post-breakfast. Lunch was actually something I'd been eating already, a leafy salad with hard-boiled egg and chicken. I just added more greens than usual, as instructed! My friend and I even did a bit of extra credit by walking briefly after eating, having picked up a pedometer each, to record each step. We'll be walking to work tomorrow morning, and for the rest of the week. Shed pounds, save pounds, winner all round!

Post work there was a HIIT work-out! For those not in the know that stands for High Intensity Interval Training. This was going to be the toughest part of the training by far. Upon arrival we discovered only one other hardy soul had bothered to turn up, so we felt a sense of pride at actually participating. We learned that the principles of HIIT is 20 seconds of workout, followed by 10 seconds break, followed by another 20 seconds. The 10 seconds is really just the time it takes to shift to the next exercise.

I think I was okay for the physical side, though it was a struggle, I'm no Olympian that's for sure. Squats, running on the spot, sit-ups and push-ups were all punishing my lazy muscles. But worse still, about half way along in the training, my head began to feel light and fuzzy. My vision was unfocused and I needed to take a genuine break. Sindy advised I walk it off, rather than sit still, so I tried but quickly found my head was swimming and I needed a lie down!

I managed to revive in time for the stretches at the end and redeem myself somewhat, before forcing my jelly legs back down the stairs and into the car for the slovenly drive home.

Sindy is kindly going to visit first thing in the morning to do a blood sugar test, to see if she can help identify the cause of my light-headedness. It is something I experienced when I used to jog last year, and as I got used to the exercise it did die down, but it shows that I lack something, hopefully nothing I can't replenish with the right diet!

So, I'm at the cusp of a, currently only 5 day journey, but who knows, will my weight change? My muscles increase? My energy levels improve? Will anything change? I hope I find something from all this, and I hope it can make me healthier for a lifetime. But for now, 5 days is the short goal, because exercise is the easiest thing to dive into, and ditch not longer after.

And I am, after all, a procrastinator. So, wish me luck!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

A day in the life of a procrastinator

The oblivion of sleep is punctured by a vague recollection that reality is about to shift plains. Within an indefinable time-frame an unnatural noise signals that my mind needs to change gears, and it shuts off the link between dreams and consciousness. My arm moves to tap the cancel button on the phone, shutting of the light tinkling of melodic bells that acts as an alarm.

The world comes into focus. What was I dreaming about? When did I drift off? Did I wake up during the darkness of night? What day is it? Do I need to make our lunch? 

Adorable wife will have already made it to the shower. Shaking the lethargy from my re-awakening body I'll trot to the kitchen to boil the water for her rooibos tea, and pop an energy fizzer into half a glass of water for me to get the first liquid of the day. 

Teeth. Drink. Shower. Lunch. Breakfast. Leave the house. All within 1 hour and fifteen minutes on an average day. By the time I'm in the car heading to work, any dreams I had are long absent from my mind, locked away forever. Adorable wife is dropped off and I'm on my way to work.

Work consists of attempting to produce something new, with continual punctuation marks provided by colleagues with queries, customers with problems, and technical issues. Lunch arrives before I know it, splicing the day in two. The afternoon continues without mercy, and the day's end arrives, not caring whether my initial goals were completed, started, or even thought about again, after their original inception. 

Back in the car, pick up adorable wife. We're home. Dinner will be wanted, and is often pre-prepared on a free day, so only basics such as rice, side dishes and other niceties are required. 

How was your day? We ask this of each other. I rarely have anything of note to report. I do my job, it treats me well, I respond accordingly. Adorable wife sometimes experiences dramas. On occasion she neglects to tell me about them on the day and I only learn later down the line. Understandably I tick her off for not keeping me in the loop. My concern is for her, and if I don't know all the facts about her day to day life, I can't help. If something unpleasant should come to light, I will obviously be keen to talk it through and see if there is a resolution.

And so, we come to the later stages of the evening, and my second job takes precedence. My second job is to blog about my life and my writing. My second job is to write a sci-fi epic direct to blog, no ret-conning allowed. My second job is to continue the adventures of the Bow family. 

Music is required. Via the hi-fi should the living room be free to do so, via headphones should adorable wife want to watch the TV. I need sounds with melody, with a beat, with some motion within, and it will set the pace, and sometimes the tone, of what I type. Should I be on Clara or the blog novel, and need some action to kick in, I need something fast-paced. This is when I commonly dig out some form of dance music, not something I listen to by default as a rule. I can tolerate dubstep when the mood calls for it, though left on too long it can became wearing on the brain. Electronica, chillout, and other variants on dance will also be called upon to help my typing flow with appropriate gusto.

Should I be required to type something more emotional and thoughtful, I will end up with some form of smooth jazz. Earl Klugh, Brian Culbertson, Dave Koz, and many more. This more relaxed background music can soothe my mind and leave it open for a more studied writing style.

The key is to avoid anything with singing where possible. Hearing the poetry of others, when trying to keep your own voice unique is not beneficial. Though when I hit the writing zone with enough vigour I can effectively block the words and use the beat.

What do I blog to? Pretty much anything really, again, avoiding anything too wordy, which could otherwise prove distracting to the mind, and adversely affect my own tone, or worse, simply distract me from my work. Currently I have an internet radio station playing jazz, lounge and bossa nova, offering an eclectic, but easy-going mix which offers a pleasant background.

I don't set myself a minimum, or maximum, amount of writing to complete because how one feels after an early morning start, a full day of work, and a post-work catch up with the wife, will vary from one day to the next. If I manage at least an hour of focused writing, I would count that as a successful night. Anything above that is a bonus. 

Writing may, in essence, be an easy task. You are simply putting words down on screen, no physical effort required. But after a day of brain draining, it can often be that the mind will simply not offer sufficient resources to practically write something of value. 

Not only that, but adorable wife has herself had a full day, of physically tiring, and mentally wearing hard toil. What if all she has been looking forward to all day was a chilled out night with her hubby? There's only so often I can turn her away and say that I have to knuckle down and stare at the glow of my laptop in favour of a cooch on the couch with the prettiest lady in this galaxy. Sometimes I resist the urge, sometimes I don't. There's no real rhyme or reason to my decision that I know of. Maybe it depends how well she deploys those big brown puppy dog eyes...

Even when I do resist adorable wife, sometimes I can write for three to four hours after a crazy hectic day, and barely manage a sentence after a bog-standard, no-challenge day. Is there something to be argued for the days where the brain is so fired-up from other activity, it stokes the flames of creativity for later? Whereas the less action it has experienced, the more dulled it can be. 

But it's not just the lovely lady of the house. I do also like to keep a toe in some sort of social life. I never was, and still am not, a big socialiser. But you can't shut yourself away in a room and never venture into the big bad world. I've been like that in the past, though have always been lucky to know at least one plucky soul who liked me enough to keep attempting to part me from my beloved movies. I have a fortnightly Thursday outing I attend, and will do the occasional ad-hoc session too. Getting out into the real world is also hugely useful for a writer. Unless you're writing about amphibious goat-men from the planet Grobble, seeing and interacting with real people is the only way to write real characters.

But here be guilt. Because for every night I spend with adorable wife, and for every evening I pop out for drinks with mates, for every TV episode I watch, for every film I settle down to, technically the time could have been used for writing. Once a day has come and gone, it can never be retrieved for a retry.

What I tell myself is this; if I have no life to spend with adorable wife now, what life will I have left if I succeed as a writer, but our relationship has been adversely impacted? If I always stay in, friends will eventually drift away, and should I later have more free time, they may be too busy for me. It may be retrospective justification for merely enjoying myself, but until my day time job is writing, I have to walk that tight rope. 

At some stage of the night, my mind will begin to fog up, dream clouds fill up my horizon, and I'll head to the shower, if haven't already done so earlier. The safe, cosy haven of duvets and pillows have begun calling me, like sirens of the sea, lulling me to the days end, and a seemingly endless slumber. Until once again oblivion is punctured. Once again a day must be lived, before the decisions of the night are revisited. 

To write, or not to write?

Monday, 6 October 2014

Seeing the world through a cold funk

I had me a stinking old cold last week. It's the first full blown cold I've had for a couple of years and my brain just wasn't clear enough for writing. And that actually drove me a little nuts, because I had a couple of days booked off from work already, which should have been perfect for getting a good amount of keyboard gymnastics completed.

As it was, the days wasted away with little achievement and now I'm back to full time work for the next four weeks. What a pain! 

Talking of what you miss when you're sick, I casually mentioned to a friend that the worst thing about having a cold was that coffee and tea didn't taste right. He immediately countered by saying he thought it was not being able to hear clearly, making listening to music pointless for him. Adorable wife always mentions her tastebuds go dull and she can't taste food properly.

I suppose it's a little like becoming someone else for a few days. I love a good quality cup of freshly brewed coffee, or a nicely steeped cup of loose tea. The moment may be fleeting, but the satisfaction lingers. With a cold, my coffee tastes off and tea has an odd aftertaste, and I gain no pleasure from them. My friend is a huge audiophile, his amplifier alone consists of 6 separate black boxes with a sexy green glow, so his music is his escape, his true pleasure. Having his auditory sense hampered is destroying the enjoyment. Adorable wife loves her food, cooking and eating. Not being sure the taste is perfect, and not being able to savour the flavour is truly a frustration. But if you view it as seeing the world with fresh eyes, ears, taste buds, and smells (or lack thereof if you have a cold), it can give you a different perspective. 

Admittedly the whole problem is you don't actually feel very fresh. But the point is, you can silo yourself with your preferences, and some time without them, or in this case, now disliking them, can drive you to other experiences. 

That said, at the first sign my cold was retreating, I ground some fresh coffee and savoured a nice hot brew! The whole experience does require sensory acuteness. The lush scent of coffee beans, before and after grinding, and the hot earthy, bitter (but not too bitter) brew it becomes. Can't beat that!

So did I discover anything special when I was subjected to a week without my favourite drink? I did learn that proper Lemsip is 100% nicer than any cheap alternative. But I also learned that a spoonful of local honey is a cure for any degree of gross cheapskate hot lemon cold drink. I did fall in love with a nice spoon of thick, runny honey!

I also rediscovered my love for a drink called Milo, which is a malt energy drink that you mix with water and milk. You can buy it in this country, but it is seriously inferior to the Malaysian version, which is pure silky powder. The local variety appears to be the dreggs from the production process, looking more like rubble, and not dissolving much better. The real stuff is a good pick-me-up and a nice way to start the day, or a lazy way to get something that almost fools your body into thinking you've eaten. Kind of like a kid-friendly Guinness. Luckily adorable wife's dad brought us a big supply of the genuine product from Malaysia when he visited earlier in the year. What a hero!

Not being clear headed to write, also served to remind me that I am lucky to be able to do something creative. It's a gift, and I don't say that to be big headed. There are much more talented and gifted writers than I. But there are many who want to write, but cannot work out how to construct a sentence, or string together several into an effective paragraph. Or they have an idea they wish to express, but cannot find the words to do so with clarity. I realise that I just do what I do without really trying too hard, and in essence the difficulty comes from trying to fit all my writing into a life with a full-time job. So it did make me appreciate what it is like not to have that at my fingertips.

I'm not sure my friend would agree that he learns something particularly useful from keeping his Naim hi-fi silent. Though sometimes silence has its benefits too. Especially if you are used to keeping some sort of sound constantly running in the background, be it the TV, music or the sound of the neighbours making mad passionate love. That reminds me of the house I grew up in. The last set of neighbours we had would either argue, vacuum or bonk. That seemed to be the sum total of their lives. 

But I digress.

Ultimately, whatever current events are throwing at you, try and take them as an opportunity to understand who you are, discover knew things, and see the world from another perspective. And count yourself lucky that if you don't like what you see from your new perspective, it will only be temporary for you. For some the world will look as it did to you when ill all the time.


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

I'm far too trusting

I have trust issues. 

I'm far too trusting. 

My nature is to believe what I have been told is the honest truth. It's part of my natural optimism, and you might think that it's a good thing. 

It's just there are circumstances where it can be foolish or dangerous. 

Example one happened in Sheffield back in 2001. I was in the city after work, and it was already dark outside. I was heading to the tram when a scruffy young man blocked my path and asked if I could help. He told me he needed money to get back to his residence. He explained he was on remand and would possibly go back to prison if he didn't get back in time. He said he'd come to the city for a job interview, which had fallen through, and somehow the money he was supposed to have to return was gone. I forget why. What it all led to was an impassioned request for help with the train fare. Now, I genuinely had no cash on me, bar a few pence. I explained this and he suggested I could go to a cash machine if I was willing to help.

Now I know what you're thinking. Hell no! Go to a cash machine with a complete stranger? Sure, enter my pin, get a bash on the head, and all my money is gone! 

Sure, that sounds wise now. But for whatever reason I didn't look at it that way at the time. I figured he was in trouble and perhaps I could help. So off we went, two complete strangers, to a cash machine.

I tapped in my pin, withdrew £10 and gave him £5. No bash on the head, no theft, no mugging. He thanked me, went on his way and I lived to tell the tale.

Only in retrospect did I consider how dangerous that was. Why did I not see that at the time? Because I believed him. He seemed honest, and the story seemed authentic. Was he genuine? I'll never know.

Example 2 was in Bali. Adorable wife and I had just been dropped off in the city by a taxi from the hotel. We were immediately accosted by a friendly chap with some scratchcards. They were free and practically thrust in our hands. He encouraged us to see what we'd won. Adorable wife had some vouchers. I had won a free stay in a luxury hotel. 

The nice chap then told us that he would be able to get a real job if we went with him to collect our prizes. The hotel was apparently nearby and he could get a taxi and go with us and not only would we get our prizes immediately, but he would have brought in enough custom to secure a job at the hotel.
I had my doubts about what we had won, but in my trusting brain saw nothing wrong with checking it out, and so suggested we might be able to do this. Adorable wife suggested we didn't have time and we'd think about going later. In a stroke of ignorant genius I tried to suggest maybe we could do this first, until she insisted we had that 'very important thing to do' and I finally twigged that she wasn't keen on going with the strange man in strange taxi to an alleged hotel. And so we made our excuses and moved swiftly on.

I was immediately chastised by adorable wife for being so naive. Of course the cards were a scam. They were probably going to drive us out somewhere and at best rob us of everything we had.
I'm sure, in this case, she was 100% right, but the chap had been so nice and sweet, and I didn't look beyond that. 

I think both stories are lucky dodges for me. The first, I don't know for sure, but I assume it was a scam but he wasn't a mugger, just happy to dupe a fool like me. The second can only have ended in disaster if adorable wife hadn't been more worldly wise.

I still trust people though. I take things at face value. I guess when it's in your nature, unless you have enough negative experiences to teach you otherwise, it remains part of who you are.
Personally, I can only hope that I don't lose it, because that means I'll have been through some bad times. And I do have a cynicism when it comes to work, because you tend to hear the same phrases so frequently, that you grow immune. The amount of reminders that don't arrive in the post would suggest the area has a rogue postie who can identify them and is hiding them in his basement.

But that cynicism doesn't carry through to my personal life, and that does mean I must always remind myself to pause and think about who I have in front of me and whether they have any reason to misrepresent themselves.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

How I deal with my anger

I'm not good at being angry. Don't get me wrong, I do get annoyed, but it's never really a long term proposition. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not.

I just don't get outwardly angry in situations I know others would and so perhaps I don't react as you would expect. A simple example would be the other day, when I was driving home from work. The route I commonly take goes through some chicanes, and I had reached the second set where it was my right of way. The first car coming through had time to get through before I got there, the second car did not, yet he brazenly carried on driving. I had to completely stop to let him through. Now I know from being in cars with other people, and from what I have been told, that in similar situations, they have honked angrily or given the driver the finger. I just made a face, and then went through, grumbling mildly.By the time I was through the chicane I was over it, and didn't care a jot.

I've been in the car with adorable wife before and been cut-up or someone has done something stupid, and she's told me I should have honked. But I never think to do so. In that circumstance I'm usually more focused on dealing with the car than getting mad. I just don't see the point in getting all roiled up, and what is honking going to do? Will the other driver be, "oh thanks for honking, I have learned the error of my ways and will never do this again"? I don't think so. I suppose the only benefit is if they didn't realise they had caused an issue, and by you honking they were informed. But to be honest, when I have cocked up at a roundabout, or junction, I knew it, irrespective of whether someone honked or not. Don't worry, it hasn't happened that often!

And even if I do get mad, it usually dissipates within minutes. I'd say most of my anger stems from frustration, in situations when something is not functioning as it should, or someone has repeatedly done something wrong, or poorly. But even then my anger is usually directed at inanimate objects. When I was young, and I was still an avid video game player, I'd get frustrated with a game and throw the controller, or pluck the cartridge (yes, that's how old I am) from the console and fling it at the wall. I never lash out at other people, not then, and not now. 

I reckon it's all linked to my shyness, where my ability to express what's truly inside is suppressed when I'm in company. And this is where my thought about whether it is a good or bad thing. Because if you're holding emotions in, repressing the frustration and anger, it must be going somewhere. It's a simple transference of energy. I think that can affect you physically. Tire you out, or make you ill.

Not only that, suppression of emotion can mean it is unleashed later, when it is not appropriate. Is it better if the person who caused it, know it immediately, and you can then both deal with the issue at hand? 

Perhaps once I was affected by a repression of emotion. But I'm not sure if I am anymore. I think it's more that I genuinely don't harbour ill-will. I find that whatever the cause of my initial frustration, given a few minutes, I start to consider the other side of the story. 

What if I'm the one in the wrong? What if I have misunderstood? What if I could have done something differently? What if they're just having a bad day? 

Once you start to consider the issue from another perspective, it starts to devalue your own concerns. And even if you conclude that you did no wrong. That short time you were outside your own concerns, reduces the heightened emotional state anger places you in. Once you are in a calmer state, I find, the whole thing starts to appear somewhat meaningless. Does it matter if you were right? What is gained from proving so? If you manage to prove it, will the other person immediately reconsider their position, or will they simply feel aggrieved, not for the original reason, but for the steps you took to prove them wrong?

All this will have run through my mind within minutes, and by then, calm has returned. 

Other times, I also fail to identify why something could be perceived as upsetting. That as got me in trouble with adorable wife at least once recently. Because I didn't see something as a concern, i.e. if it had happened to me I wouldn't have registered it as an insult or personal attack, she felt I was not supportive. That was a particularly difficult issue to deal with, because as described above, my mind tried to put itself in the position of seeing how and why this situation would make me angry. It's actually harder when you're not angry, to try and make yourself angry! I suppose it's like tickling yourself, you can't really do it.

The reason I didn't really see the situation as adorable wife wanted me to, was because, even when directly faced with insults, or personal attacks, I don't really find it affects me. I can't take it seriously, because any personal attack is more likely reflecting an issue the attacker has, rather than an issue I have. Once someone has resorted to being personal, they have run out of any better options. I say this from years of experience in customer service, where people can get angry and lash out, and you genuinely start to let it wash over you. Sometimes they have a right to be angry about something, and even if they personalise it, I know it's not really personal. Perhaps that just means I've desensitised myself against attack. I don't care enough to rise to it. 

I also don't pick up on passive aggressive undertones that well, and what had happened with adorable wife was definitely passive aggressive. The problem with passive aggression is, it's often too subtle. I'm sure a lot of it flies around social media. I try not to make assumptions about what someone has said, or what a text meant, or an action that was taken, because we often only base our guesses on how we are feeling at the time, or how we would have written something. But that doesn't mean the other person has the same concept of that as you. You can assume something was directed at you, when actually it wasn't.

And really, what good does passive aggression do? What does seething over something someone did, or what you perceived they did, actually achieve? It's like they say, when you hate, the only person you hurt is yourself. The person your anger or hate is directed to is unscathed by your distant dislike. And if you externalise your hate or anger in a petty and non-confrontational way, do you not only validate their own reasons for being unkind? If you have an issue, either address it, or leave it. If the person does not want to bring it up with you directly, it really can't be that important, and therefore you shouldn't give it any stock.

I think I have historically been afraid of confrontations, and I think that means my instinct has been to leave something, rather than address it. Now I have built my confidence, I find I am more willing to speak out to the whoever has caused an issue, when it happens. And most of the time, that addresses the issue, I'm not storing up a glut of frustrations, and that maintains my calm equilibrium. It took a long time, and in some ways, a professional need to do so. I would not have been doing my job correctly as a manager in retail if I was afraid of telling the assistants the bad, as well as the good. And I would not be doing my current improvement role correctly. But of course, in a workplace, it's not about confrontations because you're angry, insomuch as feeding back, so there are positive ways of dealing with it. 

The simple fact is, sometimes I wish I did get more angry, because the concern is people will walk over you if you are a perceived soft touch. But overall, I prefer being the calm, controlled person I am. I think you can deal with a problem easier and better when you are in a calm state of mind.

I think it's healthier, and will lead to an easier life, if you don't let the world burn you out.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Reviewing the reviews of Clara Bow

It's an odd, and somewhat nerve-wracking experience looking at the reviews of Clara Bow and the Seal of Solomon on Amazon. I know everyone is entitled to their opinion and you can never please all the people all the time, so I have to remind myself that, good or bad, what someone has said is not personal, and not definitive.

Of course I hope for mostly positive reviews, or else I would feel like a failure, and it is hard to forge on in the face of negative responses. 

Fortunately, my book has an average of 4.1 out of 5 stars, from 25 reviews. Now, as an unknown, single novel, self-published novice, to reach 25 reviews is pleasing in itself. To have them average out to 4 out of 5, is as good as I could have hoped. And there are very positive reviews. 

There are also some seriously negative ones. 

And I find I have to be wary of both types. It's all too tempting to embrace the positive and dismiss the negative, especially when there is more of the former than the latter overall. But one should never believe their own hype, and should never take criticism to heart. 

I think I'm a little odd when it comes to these things. I have minor palpitations when loading up the screen, and so haven't done it for a long time. It's akin to suspecting you have overspent and fearing looking at your bank statements, and so  keep putting it off. I can't help it, it's a physical reaction that I feel under many circumstances, and do my best to disregard and forge on regardless. But when it is a simple matter of not looking at a page, it is all too easy to do.

However, I did force myself to look today, because sales have slowed to a near halt, and I wanted to check I hadn't received a swathe of poor reviews, knocking my average down. But that doesn't seem to be the case. The mix of good and bad are much as they had been before. I guess it's just the ebb and flow of sales. I never really knew how they picked up the first time, so I think it's just the nature of the open market. I feel I need to get the second one out, because for all the positive responses to the first, I could have probably sold the second, and start to build a mini following.

It's funny, when I read through the poor reviews I find my face flushing hot, my heart beating faster. It's the same feeling I get when embarrassed or when my innate shyness rears its ugly head. I don't know why it happens, because I'm on my own, reading something by a complete stranger, who meant nothing personal by their words. Indeed, they are being generous, having invested finance and time in my words, by offering their considered opinion of my work, so others can better judge whether to do the same. But there I am, sitting on the couch, no one pointing and laughing, feeling red-faced. It's not that I'm feeling defensive, quite the opposite. It's a sense of shame that I have disappointed someone. Daft right? Why does it matter to me? Even I don't know, but as with all my shyness, it's a physical reaction, to which my logical mind has to battle and overcome. 

The good thing is, I can learn from both types of reviews. 

The negatives commonly seem to be that the story is too slow, and too descriptive. I think that stems from the first half of the tale, where I was setting character and location and perhaps getting a little too focused on the minor details. There is definitely a mid-way point where the story kicks into high gear and is extremely fast paced. I would certainly hold my hands up and agree the overall pacing is therefore a little uneven. 

The positives focus on the relationship between Clara and Lisa, and the quirky twist on the adventure story. This was always my intention so it is extremely pleasing to find this has hit a nerve with many readers.

So I have learnt to keep the pacing consistent, and more like the second half of the novel than the first. Description is always required, but I realise that unless the information seems relevant it can be wearing and so should be used wisely and sparingly. The family unit and their dynamic is also the most successful and important element of the first book, so should be retained and built upon in the subsequent stories. 

The one-offs I have to brush off. The chap who didn't like the ending. Well, I love the ending, and I won't apologize for it! But sorry you feel that way.

And to the person who said it was more a fantasy than a thriller and gave it one star. Sorry! But if you read the description I have on Amazon, would you not realise it was a fantasy, not a thriller?

Have a look for yourself...

To sum up, reading reviews is scary. But if you can get through the sense of indignation at the bad, and avoid swollen-head syndrome from the good, you can learn how to improve your next novel. And that's surely worth a few palpitations.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Around my life in 100 blogs

Huzzah and hurrah! Salutations and greetings to this, the 100th entry to my blog. 

The first entry was on the 25th April 2011 and was titled "I'll never carry on". It was short, snappy and relatively pointless. It was also incorrect. I did carry on, albeit with some dramatic pauses for effect. 

So this blog is over 3 years old, but I was, ironically, procrastinating when that milestone came and went. Oh the delicious, syrupy irony. 

So what has happened in the 3 and a bit years since this here blogerooni (to give it the full, official title) was started to little pomp and no circumstance?

My most popular post is a relatively early one, entitled "It's Mulberry, crossed with Tod's and Prada", dating from the 5th of June 2011. I'm guessing that could be because it mentions large brand names, and so gets picked up in searches more often. It could because it's a masterclass in informative, creative blogging, that is overdue plaudits and free chocolate biscuits.

My least popular post is last week's, closely followed by the very first entry mentioned above. The lesson here is to write about up-market leather goods, rather than me. But sorry folks, this blog is called Adventures of a Procrastinator, not Adventures of a Handbag Purchaser. 

As far as life from entry 1 to 100, long suffering adorable wife has suffered (longly) through endometriosis, endured three surgeries, the last of which was blogged about on the 26th May 2013. Since that date, she has made slow, steady, impressive progress, to the stage that she is now the proud member of a local gym, which she attends three times a week. Energy is being regained, health re-built, and bod is being toned. All in all, a grand success story, and one for which we truly feel blessed. Not everyone is so lucky, and I still support Endometriosis UK via my modest book sales.

Ah yes, my book. The blog was started mainly as a way to force my novel writing into a public arena, and to that end, the result was a resounding success. Clara Bow and the Seal of Solomon was announced to the world on my birthday; the 22nd May 2012. I still feel proud of completing a whole novel, and getting it into the world at large.

After a shaky start, with sales being somewhat notable by their absence, Kindle editions started to be picked up, and now I do get a trickle of monthly income from the book. Currently I am trying hard to get writing done on the follow-up, Clara Bow and the Staff of Aaron. I wish I had managed to get it complete sooner, but come on guys, I have a full-time job, a wife, and friends, and I do need to spend a little of my life attending to those matters. As much as I would love to blitz a book out in a manner of a few months, which I reckon I could, were it my full time profession, it just isn't realistic.

In these three years I have also become more social. One of my first disastrous attempts at passing the socialising frontier was detailed in a blog from 23rd April 2012, entitled "A night to remember (and then forget)", which detailed my swift descent into alcohol-ingestion hell. 

But since that fateful day I have learned how to drink, and handle, my alcohol, and have a small, but high quality circle of friends who seem to enjoy my company, or at least tolerate my presence. Which is nice. I hasten to add alcohol is not always imbibed. Other, wholesome activities are enjoyed. 

What hasn't changed in these 100 blogs? My job for one. I am still doing the same thing as three years ago. Well, that's not strictly true. I am technically in the same role, but the nature of that role has evolved, and for the better I would say. If it had not, I may not have lasted as long as I have. If something becomes stagnant I inevitably crave a change. Lucky for me my job is challenging in the right ways, and has shifting parameters and hard to reach goals. That said, a few more bob in the pocket wouldn't go amiss... But I can't just do a job for the money now. I want to love what I do, or it will drive me nuts real quick!

Adorable wife hasn't changed. She's still adorable, and she's still my wife. And I love her more than ever. That will be the same in blog entry 1000, and entry 100,000. Though at my current blogging pace, I think that would make me about 3,333 years old at that point.

We still live in the same place. I think that will have to change soon. We're exploding out of this space, overflowing with stuff, in a residence that has no way to be expanded. Guess I do need that job that pays the extra bob if I want the place with more space...

100 blog entries isn't too shabby you know. It's two and a half a month on average, which, considering the mahoosive gap before, in true Hollywood style, I re-booted my franchise, must mean I had a pretty decent pace at one stage. Ah, the glory days. It's interesting casting a cursory glance over the historical entries, and seeing what 100 blogs say about me.

I notice a common theme with my blog is me vanishing, re-appearing, apologising, proclaiming I have cracked how to keep on top of my writing, then vanishing again! It is obvious I chose my blog title appropriately. But to be fair, every time I have returned. Now it is a beast of three plus years, it has taken on a life of its own. No longer does it lie in the cot screaming for my attention. It is picking itself up and staggering on wobbly, but determined legs, and I am having to run after it, and keep it under control. Stop it from poking Lego in its nose and so on.

Another frequent theme are my insecurities, the recent being the blog of the 15th August 2014, titled "I don't always understand who I am...", so navel gazing and introspection seems to be one of my proclivities. Sorry about that.

I have also just noticed that on the 8th of February I wrote a blog entry entitled "Why doesn't everyone use common sense?", a shocking similar title to recent entry on the 7th August entitled "What the heck is common sense?" Seems I really am on a Hollywood re-boot.

Thank you to those who have stuck with me through these last few years. Especially those of you who have always been there to push me to write, and keep pestering me for new material. You know who you are, and this is me telling you that it's greatly appreciated, more than I can ever say.

Here's to the next hundred pages of gibbering idiocy...