The Disappearing Month

So, who stole the last four weeks? They have slipped by without me noticing. I know that time appears to pass more quickly the older you get, but this is getting silly. So, why do we oldies often say ‘The past few weeks have simply flown!’ ?
A quick web search pulls up an abundance of theories, but my favourite one has always been that each passing year is a smaller percentage of my life. When I was ten, school summer holidays seemed to last forever. Off on the bike with a pal to go fishing at the canal, rod tied to the crossbar, sandwiches for lunch and a bottle of pop in the saddle bag, each day lasted an eternity. One year was a tenth of my lifetime. Now that each year represents less than a sixtieth of my life, school holidays flash by. When I was 16, the five years I spent training under an apprenticeship lasted a quarter of my lifetime. But the five years since the last General Election in 2010 have whizzed past. Those five years now represent only about one twelfth of my life. So, the older I get the smaller the time intervals appear relative to my age and, probably, to my life expectation. I’m not sure when I started factoring how long I’ve got left into the equation, but it happened at some point. The difficulty here is the target. We have no idea whether we might reach it or beat it. My Mum made 59, my kid sister 47. Granddads and grandmas made it into their 80s. If I were to be told tomorrow that I only had four weeks to live, would they be the fastest four weeks of my life? Probably. Perhaps if I reckon on receiving that elusive birthday card from our Queen, each year will become a larger proportion and time might slow down for a while.
Then there’s the theory that the perceived passage of time is measured against major events. We start school, we fall out of tree, we get a new sibling or few, we go to secondary school, we suffer a broken heart, take our first trip abroad, start our first job. All those (and many more) memorable occasions are like milestones at the side of the road. But as we age, the milestones get more difficult to distinguish, and events become less important as they are often repeats of what has gone before. The milestones that do exist are spaced further apart. Did those early years seem to last longer because of all the truly memorable events crammed into them?
Another interesting idea is that as we age, we become slower at completing tasks. So what we used to achieve in a day, now takes two. Or simply gets left unfinished. Is it really us being slower, or is each hour of each day actually passing by more quickly? They are not, of course, but maybe this is one reason we think they are.
Did I mention processor speed? My knowledge of how brains work is fairly limited, but could they have a sampling rate that changes as we age? I wonder, because of the time I walked into a glass door. Bouncing off, I fell backwards, grabbing at a curtain on my way to the floor. My immediate recollection at the time was that I was falling in slow motion, as though those few seconds had been filmed with a high speed camera and I was playing them back at a normal rate. If the brain can play a trick like that, maybe there is a similar effect that makes time seem to pass more quickly as we get older. As the processor speed slows down, playing back earlier memories makes them appear to last longer than they actually did, so time now relative to then goes that little bit faster.

Best start thinking about what to get people for Christmas…

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Losing the plot? Or not?

The flush of success from Whomerley Wood Moat is fading a little and, although I’m over the moon with all the interest shown so far, I need a new fix! A deep heart-felt thank you to everyone who bought a copy of the book, and if you didn’t it isn’t too late. Just click on the Cade Books tab above for details about how to get a copy. And to wrap up this topic, here’s the half page spread that appeared in the local paper.
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I’m feeling a little empty after completing my BA(Hons) with the OU last October. The degree was spread over five years (regular readers will remember I studied three Level 3 modules, so did the honours year twice. For fun). That was five years filled with reading, learning, completing assignments, interacting with tutors and other students, keeping to deadlines and generally stressing out (in a good way). Five months after finishing, I’m missing the studying like crazy.

So, am I losing the plot to even consider starting up again? There are two options on the cards at the moment. An MA in English is one of them. The reading list is peppered with poetry from Milton’s Paradise Lost to Byron, prose from Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre to Robinson Crusoe and Foe, and plays from Antigone to Coriolanus. To be honest though, I’m not sure I have the passion needed to get sufficiently excited about works such as these. But I could try, and would probably find the study stimulating and challenging.

On the other hand, there’s the option of a BSc(Hons). The whole point of the BA was to get stuck into arts and creativity after a lengthy career in engineering science and technology. But I could sign up for some science modules, of which there are sure to be many that interest me, for a few years.

The only downside to further study is the expense involved. My BA was completed under what the OU called ‘transitional’ fees (which is why I swung an extra Level 3 while the cost was at the old rate). From now on though, the module fees will be more than three times what I paid.

Studying aside, there is still plenty of writing going on. There are two novels on the go. They were both started during NaNoWriMo, and are in various stages of re-writing at the moment. Then there’s an anthology of prose and verse containing some of the writing from the OU Creative Writing modules. It is interesting to look back at some of these pieces and to perform some much-needed heavy edits. ‘Did I actually write that?’ And I have some ideas for e-Books as well.

So, it isn’t that I have no choices.

Perhaps I’m just looking for an excuse to get out of that long list of jobs around the house!

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Whomerley Wood Moat, Stevenage

My booklet about the medieval moated site in Whomerley Wood, Stevenage has been published.  Details about the book and how to buy a copy can be found under the Cade Books tab on my WordPress Blog, or go direct by clicking here.

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In fact, if you’re in a hurry to get a copy, hit this button!Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

That was a shameless example of self-advertising, was it not?! But, with Lulu having probably hundreds of thousands of books for sale, and Amazon having millions, how else would anyone know about my little offering!

I went with Lulu in the end. The decision wasn’t easy, as there are so many different aspects to consider and each POD publisher had their pros and cons. Out of desperation as much as anything, I ordered a book from Lulu to see how they performed and promised myself that if it came back looking good I would take the plunge. The postage seemed a bit steep at £2.99, but like many Oldies I still compare prices to what they were in the sixties when half a crown bought a plate of pie and chips in the local pub.

The book was ordered last Monday afternoon, it was printed on Tuesday and it dropped on the doormat Thursday morning. That was pretty good service whichever way you look at it.  The quality of the book is far greater than I expected, with a fabulous glossy colour cover and clear easy-to-read text inside.

The physical act of publishing with Lulu was a piece of cake. They take you by the hand and lead you step by step through the whole process, and to be honest there wasn’t a single ‘gotcha’ that I can recollect. Even when I chose to use my own ISBN, that was handled easily and with no hiccups. The cover design would have been a bit tricky had I not realised it could be designed offline with MS Publisher and then uploaded as an image. A bit of form-filling and a few boxes to tick, and that was it.  My baby was on sale!

So, Whomerley Wood Moat is now out there for anyone to buy.  If you do, thank you, and I hope you enjoy reading about the moated site as much as I loved researching and writing about it.

Whoops, I nearly forgot to tell you which book I ordered for the test run. It was a copy of Nature’s Gold, by Penny Luker. I am an admirer of Penny’s writing, and this book contains a selection of her poems. Some of them are deeply emotional (Undeniable Love), others are light and easy going (Sneaky), a few bring a chuckle or two (Don’t Buy Me Apples). All of the poems are engaging, and it is clear they have been written from the heart with a profound sense of perception. If you think you might like Penny’s writing too, find her at her blog by clicking here.

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The House in the Clearing – Update

The booklet about the Whomerley Wood moat in Stevenage is coming along nicely, and has grown quite a lot since the previous blog. I am very conscious though that there is a delicate balance to be struck between including generalities about medieval times and topics specific to the moated area. So, it is probably time to stop writing and start editing.

I had some useful feedback on how to press ahead with publishing (thank you!), and decided to try out two Print on Demand providers, Lulu and Blurb, by working up a test project using what I had written so far.

Blurb, which started off life predominantly as a provider of photo-books initially looked promising. However, my hopes were dashed when I uploaded my MS Word file and most of the formatting was ignored. This would largely have been repairable, if a lengthy process, but Blurb had also removed all of the end-note references I had included. I’m not sure how much citations add to the booklet, but since they do at least give my writing some authority I wanted to leave them in. The process also removed all the images inserted in the text. I decided to leave Blurb for a while, and return to it after trying out Lulu.

What a different experience Lulu turned out to be. I uploaded the same MS Word file, and it was replicated exactly, including all the images and the references to end-notes at the back. Experimenting with the covers was an interesting experience though, and the limited range of formats made it difficult for me to replicate what I had in mind. Until, that is, I realised I could upload an entire page as a jpg file, and use that. So, opening up MS Publisher for the first time since buying MS Office 2007, it wasn’t long before I had the front and back covers completed (although they will be probably change). Both of these uploaded perfectly, and are just what I had planned.

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Lulu it is for me, then.  At least for this first venture. They will have the booklet listed everywhere important, and can also source an eBook version using what seems to be a simple process. But there is one thing I’m not sure about, and I wish Lulu was a bit more transparent on this point. It concerns the choice between using a free Lulu-provided ISBN or paying for an ISBN of my own. I know that having my own is a Good Idea, as it allows me to be named as the publisher and take control of the publication’s metadata recorded against the ISBN so that searches on Google and the like have a stronger chance of finding it. Also, there would be no US tax liability on sales to the US which would occur with Lulu as the publisher.  What isn’t clear, though, is what the difference is regarding how Lulu’s various distribution options are affected.  Everything seems to be available whether you use a Lulu ISBN or your own, but nothing is mentioned about any charges that might be made with the ‘own ISBN’ option. Maybe I’m being over-suspicious, but there surely must be a penalty for not allowing Lulu to be named as the publisher?

I shall probably go ahead with a free Lulu ISBN this time around, but wish I knew if I’m missing a trick!

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Self-Publishing, ‘The House in the Clearing’

I wrote in the previous blog about my fascination over the years regarding a medieval moated site in an area of ancient woodland where we regularly walk our Labradors.

It was no exaggeration when I said that very little information is available about the site, any buildings which may have existed there, and the people who lived in the moated area. But by knitting together snippets from around fifty sources, I have ended up with a 32 page A5 booklet!

The question is: What do I do with it now?

Because the topic is very local to Stevenage, it is unlikely that many people outside the area would be interested. On the other hand, medieval moated sites seem to hold a mysterious attraction for historians and archaeologists so there could be more widespread curiosity. For instance, Hertfordshire Association for Local History have said they would be interested to see a short article on the subject for publication in their journal.

It is tempting to take the plunge and have a go at getting it published. Although I have had articles in print in magazines and journals, the idea of publishing a booklet which is all mine is quite exciting. It could also act as a learning exercise should my two NaNoWriMo novels ever get re-drafted and polished up !

First, though, there are problems to overcome and decisions to be made:

It’s a 32 page booklet, so no-one is going to pay a lot of money to buy it. Colour printing is expensive and would probably price it completely out of the market. Trouble is, when I print the booklet on my laser in black and white, the lovely photographs I have included come out as smudgy rectangles. I’m going to try converting them all to greyscale images, but if they still don’t print then I shall have to consider leaving out the illustrations. That would make the booklet less attractive for a general audience, though, so I really want to keep the pictures in.

Should I use a Print on Demand house like Lulu or Create Space? I checked out a paperback on Amazon which had been made available through Lulu and it quoted 1-4 weeks for delivery. Four weeks sounds a real put-off to me. Create Space seems to print and ship from the US so I imagine that postage costs would figure highly with that option. The upside of using places like these is that they also provide marketing (to some extent) and distribution. The author doesn’t have to do anything. Consequently, the author doesn’t seem to be left with much either after everyone has taken their cut. Not that I’m looking to make money; it would be nice to get some of my investment in time and resources back though!

Maybe I should get a heap of copies printed from one of those self-publishing houses like York Publishing? How big a heap? Twenty? Fifty? One hundred? They would have to be stored somewhere warm and dry. And marketed. And I’d have to keep careful accounts, package the booklets and post off copies, chase up late payers. I don’t mind doing any of those things, though, so it is an option.

Perhaps I should simply print the booklets on my own laser. Be my own POD house, in other words. The results are quite good actually, and because it can print colour photographs that particular problem of image quality goes away. This could work for a smallish quantity, maybe twenty or so. I think even the cost of the laser cartridges could be accommodated in the price when I get around to thinking about that. But could I still sell them on Amazon, and arrange for e-Book sales, without someone like Lulu being involved?

Should I submit an abridged version of the booklet to Hertfordshire Association for Local History as requested? It might dilute the sales potential, but on the other hand it would be free advertising as well! If there were juicy bits, I could leave them out so people had to buy a paid for copy to get them. Alas, medieval moated homesteads don’t offer any juicy bits!

If anyone has some advice to offer about any of this, it would be most welcome.

In the meantime, a writer friend has kindly offered to read the booklet through, and I have also asked the curator at the local museum if she might do the same (no decision on that yet, though!). With the exception of any revisions being needed as a result, and sorting out the image quality, I could be ready to move forward in a week or two.

If only I knew in which direction I was going to move !

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NaNoWriMo 2014, Week 4

It feels a tad fraudulent to hang this post on the NaNoWriMo title, because last Friday I had only 4000 words to go and over a week to finish. As it turned out, the miserable weather on Sunday meant I had some extra writing time and managed to complete the competition last weekend.
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Reverend Stocks hoisted himself up and vaulted over the top, landing with a thud the other side. The vicar had expected the back yard to be in darkness, but it was quite brightly lit from the small kitchen window at the back of the shop. He pulled back the bolts top and bottom, and Rufus squeezed past the dustbin and through the gate, looking into the kitchen. Although there were net curtains at the window, it was quite easy to see inside and he could make out the sink directly below him, the door to the shop and the other one leading up the stairs to the flat.
‘There’s nobody here,’ said Rufus as the vicar joined him.
‘What’s that?’
‘What?’ said Rufus.
‘Down there, on the floor, by the door.’
Rufus had to stand on tiptoe to see the floor.
‘It looks like a slipper, or a shoe or something,’ he said.
The vicar tried the handle on the back door, but it wouldn’t budge.
‘I’m getting a bad feeling here,’ he said. ‘Do you think we should break down the door?’
‘Or just call the police?’ replied Rufus. He didn’t want to get into any sort of trouble, not with them already half accusing him of theft.
The vicar had already decided though, and took a run at the door. The wood splintered easily around the lock, and the door flew open with the vicar stumbling over the threshold as it suddenly gave way.
‘Oh my God,’ he said. ‘There’s someone here!’
Rufus ran inside behind him. Myra was laying on the floor behind the shop counter, one foot showing through the door to the kitchen.
‘Myra! Myra! ‘cried Rufus, kneeling beside her and slapping her cheeks with the palms of his hands. ‘Paul, vicar, call an ambulance.’
The vicar picked the receiver up from the telephone on the counter and dialled 999.
‘Myra!’ Rufus kept saying, but she didn’t open her eyes. He felt her neck for a pulse, but there was nothing there so he put his ear to her half-open mouth. Nothing.
The vicar was watching what Rufus was doing as he told the emergency services where to come, and as soon as he finished he crouched down the other side of Myra.
‘She’s gone,’ said Rufus.
The vicar put his ear to Myra’s chest. He got up, slowly.
‘Poor Myra,’ he said. ‘Poor, poor Myra.’
‘What do you think it was?’ asked Rufus.
‘Maybe she died of a broken heart after losing Tom last week?’ said the vicar.
Rufus thought about the insurance policies he had seen in the flat. Myra didn’t seem particularly grief stricken when he was talking to her up there.
‘Perhaps she tripped over something and hit her head?’ said Rufus.
‘Could be,’ replied the vicar. ‘I guess the ambulance people will get the police involved.’
Rufus looked around the shop, but there was nothing unusual as far as he could see. Just the galvanised buckets with flowers in them, most of which had seen better days. Shelves with plant accessories, vases, ribbons and name tags, things that people buy when they buy flowers. A mug on the counter.
‘Looks as though she was having a mug of tea,’ said the vicar.
Rufus picked up the mug. He stared at its contents for a while, then took a small sip, instantly spitting it back into the mug.
‘She was having a drink,’ said Rufus wiping his lips with the back of his hand. ‘But it wasn’t tea.’

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Completing NaNo was exciting and brought much satisfaction, but not as much as receiving the result of my final OU module, U316 The Environmental Web, a week early. This was my third Level 3 module – you only need two for the BA(Hons), but I swung another one under the old funding structure – and it turned up trumps with a Distinction, giving me sufficient points to claim a First Class degree classification. So, that is the end of the Open University journey for me, unless (and this is highly unlikely) I go for a post graduate qualification. Watch this space!

There’s a new project on the table already. Stevenage has more than its fair share of ancient woodland, and in one of the woods where we walk the dogs there is a moat which apparently dates from around the 13th century. It is reported that inside this moat stood a homestead which, of course, is now long gone and the area looks much the same as the rest of the wood. I have been fascinated by the thought of this for many years. What would the homestead have looked like? What was life like for the family? How did they make a living? There appears to be very little information available, but I plan to track down what little there is and paint a mental image of life there 800 years or so ago. Wish me luck!

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NaNoWriMo 2014, Week 3

Week 3 already, and getting on much better than expected.

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Last night I hit 46000 words, which is well ahead of the writing target, and had hoped to finish off by this weekend. It’s not going to happen though, barring a minor miracle.

I had a wisdom tooth extracted on Monday. Cracked it on some Bombay Mix a few weeks ago, and my dentist took a look at the x-ray and reckoned it would be best to whip it out. Although I booked an appointment, I kept wondering whether to wait until after the mince pie season, in case something went wrong and I couldn’t enjoy my Christmas treats. But I left it too late to cancel, and turned up at the dentist feeling quite nervous. The last time I had an extraction was some forty five years ago, and although memory does play tricks over the years, I didn’t remember it being a particularly pleasant experience. It was an emergency visit to a strange dentist (I don’t mean he was odd, just that he wasn’t my regular one), and as it happens, he pulled the wrong tooth – top instead of bottom. I had to return the following day for the correct one to be taken out, and since then have had the first molar top and bottom right missing. This time it was fine though, no pain, and just having to be careful I don’t jam anything solid into the sizeable crater left behind.

Rufus rarely had drink in the house. Not because he didn’t enjoy the odd tipple, but because he simply couldn’t afford it. He knew that the local constabulary were well aware that he didn’t have much in the way of spare cash, and he supposed that was why they were keen to talk to him about the robbery. It made sense to Rufus, having been a copper, so it must have seemed highly likely to them too.

This, though, was a time when Rufus really could do with a lift. Probably for the hundredth time since the police had called on him, Rufus stared at the sliding glass panes in the top of the old walnut sideboard which had stood along the wall opposite his chair since he had moved in. It was a lovely piece of furniture, with walnut veneered doors and drawers, and one of the few items he had managed to rescue from his wife’s clutches when they split up their home.

Rufus walked over to the sideboard and slid open the right hand glass pane. He moved aside a miniature cup and saucer they had bought while on holiday one year, and a china cat another, and reached behind them to the back of the cabinet. The miniature bottle of VSOP brandy was undated, but he knew it had been in the sideboard for many years. Which is why he had been able to resist opening it before now.

Sitting back down, Rufus turned the bottle around in his hand, admiring the golden brown colour and the way the brandy seemed to stick to the side of the glass as he moved it. It seemed such a shame. Until now, when all of a sudden he could no longer see much point in hanging on to it.

‘What the heck,’ said Rufus to himself, and twisted off the cap.

He took a deep sniff of the contents. It smelled of a posh Edwardian drawing room. Oak wood panelling, cigar smoke, freshly laundered linen. It still seemed a shame to drink it after all the years it had sat patiently, hiding behind one trinket or another, waiting to be opened.

Another NaNo snapshot of progress to date:

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So, nearly there! The various plots and characters are all playing their parts well and coming together at the right pace, so I think the ending is going to work out. But of course, it’s perfectly possible that something unexpected will happen at the list minute.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it does!

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