One million words

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just fabulous

First, a very very happy New Year to you all. It’s been a pleasure keeping you all up to date via my missives. Well, not always a complete pleasure. Sometimes … and we’ll come onto the title in a second … it just another thing I have to do. But I made myself a promise that once we’d finished our first major trip abroad (Oct 14 to Apr 15), where I penned every day, I would post biweekly. And I have done that religiously. Much to, I guess, a considerable degree of boredom on you part. Thanks for bearing with me.

The title is true. As at today, since I first started penning the blog I have written/published over 1,000,000 words and when I publish book 6 (still no title, grrr) I will be getting close to 1.5 million. It works like this: one year posting the blog every day – average of 750 words = 270,000 words. Then twice a week for the next four and a half years (at least 500 words per post = 234,000 words). Five books at an average of 120,000 words each = 600,000. If you ignore the latest, book 6, which sits at 127,000 words, the grand total still stands at 1,100,000 words.

I think that’s a lot of words. Breathes in. And out again.

So what? 2020 is the year that I either break into something bigger – and for those of you who follow me know that’s 10 books a day, 3,500 books a year. Or I accept the fact that I’m writing for a small cliche of people who like my stuff, but clearly don’t tell their friends. And I’m happy with that. As a result the first half of 2020 looks like this: reread Unsuspecting Hero and On The Back Foot To Hell (I’m half way through UH). Why? Because they were the last two books I’ve penned – UH, of course, was a rewrite. And I want them to be as good as they can be. I will have finished this by the time we leave Chatel in a couple of weeks. Then three things are going to happen simultaneously. First I start the edit cycle of book 6, ready for a July launch. Second I have consultancy work to do, which I intend to keep going. Third, I’m going to market the series. Exactly how, I’m not yet sure. But if I look at it as though it’s work and put some money to one side (in my head that = £1000, not a great deal but I’m not Barnes and Noble), then I will do something. The ambition is to make as much money in book sales as I spend on marketing.

Come July we’ll know whether or not the plan works. And I’ll also know if book 6 is the same calibre of the other 5. I will, of course, keep you posted.

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walking in the hills

Finally. We have had a fabulous first three days here in Chatel. we’ve walked up a blooming big hill using the snow shoes we bought with Mum’s Christmas money (thanks Mum). And today we’ve skied. Well, we bought a ‘Happy Ski’, which is an hour and a half’s skiing from 3pm. Each card cost 18 Euros (about £15). The alternative is a 5-hour pass (our usual) which is 38 Euros (about £35). All day passes for the Chatel area are 44 Euros (about £40). As you can see, it’s an expensive business.

We’ve started slow because, first, we can. And second we’re still in the midst of the Christmas holidays and it’s blooming busy. It will get less so from Saturday. That still gives us two weeks on the slopes (hurrah!).

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late afternoon skiing – mmmmm

Anyhow, must get back to my reading. Again, thanks for sticking with me. I hope we all keep in touch in 2020 – the year of the book marketing project!

We’re here

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the view from the patio on arrival in Chatel

We made it. That is we got through four nights at Mum’s without collateral damage and, after a brief stop at R&C’s for tea (thanks! – we didn’t stay overnight because Caroline has the same throat that C had) and I drove to Chatel overnight.

Mum’s was as best as might be expected. We didn’t do a great deal – she was more than happy not to leave the house, although I did walk her to the local shop on Christmas Eve – and so it was three whole days of TV, light chat and food. Christmas Day was quiet; C

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everyone should have one of these … and a mother

knocked up a fab lunch and then we settled in for Paddington 2. We stayed Boxing Day, which we weren’t expecting, and headed off on the 27th. There were a few harsh words here and there, which we all must take some responsibility for, but overall with rubbish weather and locked in the same four walls, we managed it. At 86 and frail it may well, of course, be her last. I asked her about that. She was not in anyway worried; not necessarily looking forward to joining Dad, but not afraid of it. She is an amazing woman in so many ways.

The journey to Chatel was different from anything I’ve experienced before. C had made it clear that she wasn’t feeling up to driving and I’d made the choice that we’d drive through the night, rather than catch an early ferry and get to Chatel in the evening. I never relish heading up the valley when it’s dark. Last year, you may remember, we drove up in snow and I hit the curb and got a flat. I was determined not to do that again. We have 4-season tyres and chains, but even so.

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at Dover. Yes, burger and chips …

On the other hand the last time we travelled overnight I promised myself I would never do it again. It can be extraordinarily tiring (obviously). But it does mean you arrive at the resort in daylight – if you haven’t driven into a ditch by then. This year, and clearly without thinking, we had decided to travel down on a Saturday … which is handover day, on the biggest changeover of the year, Christmas to New Year. I checked the traffic and the view was that it would be horrible. So we needed to get there early.

In the end it was easy. I stopped for two 30 minute naps and only felt tired once. We think the reason was because we had an audio book playing (a Jack Reacher), or maybe I was feeling well? I dunno … but we hit Chatel at 11.00 am without seeing any traffic of note. We were unloaded an hour and a half later (if we get snowed in, C has ensured we have enough provisions for two weeks, which is always fun when the apartment is down three flights of stairs.) and I sat on the patio in fabulous sunshine and got a half-hour tan.

And hats off to the Focus. Yet again the old girl didn’t miss a beat (14 years old). I averaged 60-65 mph all the way and she just pottered along. Fab.

We will be out of here three weeks today. That is the longest we’ve ever stayed in a ski resort (thank you so much E&A!). It doesn’t quite tick the box of spending a season in the snow, but it’s a good chunk. And the snow is OK, the weather set fair for the next week at least – we couldn’t be luckier.

Will let you know how it goes!

Merry Christmas everyone

Merry Christmas everyone. From both me and C. It has been a bit of a year, n’est pas? But we’ve made it this far and not much longer before we get on with a new decade.

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merry Christmas from Mum and me (and C)

We’re with Mum and she’s holding up OK. We’re lucky in some ways in that her stroke (2012) has made her a slightly more simple person – and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, just that she has easy needs which her home, a weekly trip to Morrisons, carers a couple of days a week, simple food and ITV3 meet. She has enough money and her health is not bad for an 86 year old. We’re here until tomorrow, so she won’t have had Christmas on her own.

Below is the cat’s letter. It’s in its 12 year, a now family tradition. For those of you who are not with the programme, Tidge, our erstwhile cat, got so fed up with Christmas circulars from everyone telling us all how fabulous everyone was and how much their families had given to charity (etc) she decided to write a slightly more honest appraisal of what we’d been up to. Unfortunately, Tidge is no longer with us so she pens her note from beyond.

Enjoy … and, again, have a relaxing Christmas. Be kind to whoever you are with and remember to eat your sprouts …

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driving home for Christmas …

=====================

Yo – blooming – ho!

It’s all kicking off up here. His Nibs has his hand on the rheostat and is nudging it northward. ‘If they can’t behave then don’t say I didn’t warn them,’ and I’ve toned that down a touch. Then off he goes and sulks, muttering something along the lines of, ‘I was pretty sure Greta would have found a nerve to touch. Bloody idiots.’

And whilst Rome burns the Ladleys have had another unremarkable year. Where were they during the Fridays for Future marches, and why isn’t Dad supergluing himself to an Easyjet flight to Tenerife? It’s all well and good turning the tap off when they clean their teeth, walking rather than driving to Tescos carrying a bag for life, and recycling plastic that will end up in Indonesian landfills – but it’s hardly Extinction Rebellion. That’s the problem with them. They talk a good talk, but when it comes to actually making a difference, they’re on a plane to Seoul when they should’ve stayed at home, selling their diesel-guzzling campervan and using the proceeds to plant a 1000 trees. I disown them.

But you were expecting an update?

Dad still thinks he’s a writer. Book five, On The Back Foot To Hell, was published in the summer and has sold as many copies as the others – that is, a few. You’d think he’d have learnt. With a fixed smile that could have been stolen from Commissioner Dreyfus, he has gleefully wasted much of the autumn penning book six. In between this he continues to dabble as a leadership consultant, boring schools and now the MoD with his pearls of wisdom. Like his friends, age has begun to shrink his cartilage and he’s had a couple of episodes with his heart (he has got one, bless him), but nothing that has made him look my way. And, no change, running continues to define him – those legs waggling about, knocking over small children as he rushes by. He’ll get arrested one day.

Mum had held the ship steady – as always – although I can report she’s taken to running more consistently but without leaving a liturgy of youngsters crying for their mother to pick them up. And – please – don’t ask her about their trip to Asia. Unless you have a week (and run if she gets out her phone to show you the piccies). Six weeks backpacking from Seoul to Singapore then overland to Hanoi: planes, trains and rickshaws. Bex and Steven joined them for the second half and it will always be a mystery how the children have not turned into alcoholics putting up with the wrinklies. But, they survived. Two trips to Scotland in the van and skiing in Chatel topped off a busy travel year (blame them for the Australian bush fires). But that still gave time for Mum to knit a flock-load of hats, shawls, gloves and other assorted gifts. If you see a baby in a white shawl somewhere in the south of England, put money on that Mum knitted it.

Bex and Steven like Korea. Which is bizarre, noting that they weren’t keen on the paradise that was The Bahamas. The school is good, the students are good, their flat is good (and paid for by the school – yippee!), the travel is good (Hong Kong, China, Phuket, the US, Borneo – I’m sure I’ve missed somewhere), their friends are good, and they’re good. They both have responsibility in the school and, let’s face it, when you’re based somewhere where you can ski in the morning and karaoke in Gangnam at tea time, what’s not to like? They are exactly halfway through an initial three year tenure with Dulwich International, and currently have no firm plans as to what to do next. Mum is already saving her housekeeping to fly to Seoul again in the Spring.

Jen, bless her, continues to be beset with health issues. After a bumper year in 2018 making dog accessories, last year has dragged. She has been diagnosed with ME, which is like long term flu but without the antibiotics to shift it. It has meant that she has stopped work – for now. To compound everything, a random MRI scan found a cyst the size of a tangerine on her pancreas. Now, of course, we all knew up here what was going on but, alas, everyone down below had a fingernail-biting couple of weeks whilst they discovered what was what. The good news is that it wasn’t awful news, if you get my drift. She’s due to go under the knife in January to have it taken out, along with her spleen (who needs a spleen, anyway?). We all hope that the cyst is the underlying cause to some of her other aches and pains and she can get back behind the sewing machine as soon as possible. James, the bearded one, has been a star throughout. It would all have been a different story without him. 

Other news? Well Grandad joined us in April. He’s spent his first six months on the golf course with Seve and has won the odd hole. His Nibs will put him to work at some point, but after three years of dementia we all reckon he deserves a bit longer on the greens. 

Mum and Dad are with Grandma for Christmas – just the three of them. If they make it through without someone kicking off, it will be a miracle. (Note to self: have a chat with Gabriel – he’s good at those.) Bex and Steven are travelling through southern Trumpland avoiding anyone who looks as if they might be packing. And Jen and James are having a quiet Chrimbo at home, and then with his parents. Everyone’s happy – well, particularly Mum and Dad as they’re driving to Chatel for three weeks once they leave Mum.

And me? Well, the cream has risen to the top. I’m in charge of top-table puddings this year. I’ve every intention of making far too much crème brûlée and then making myself sick on the leftovers. It’s a tough life; live it for the now I say – especially as His Nibs has cut the holiday short. He’s got some ideas for the impeachment process in January. He seems unsure which way to fall. One would rid us all of this tiresome president. The second would pile on the agony and perhaps make you lot think twice before electing an idiot. Although, let’s face it, you Brits are slow learners.

Merry Christmas. I think …     

 

The goose is getting fat

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It’s Christmas. I have to say ours is going to be low key. For a start we are not at home from tomorrow – heading off to Mum’s until Boxing Day, and then R&C’s for a couple of nights before scooting southwards to Chatel for … wait for it … three weeks. Too much excitement here for that.

As a result there’s no tree up and, whilst C has done a fab job on some tasteful decor, it’s not our usual full-blown affair. Also we’ve been busy. I worked Thursday and Friday (with some follow-on work from that for next year) and yesterday we were with Jen and James for a pre-Chrimbo get together. Top-tip: if you have Netflix watch the new animated movie, Klaus. Get through the first ten minutes – the animation is put together differently to most and you might not warm to it. But the story is fab. Great for the kids too. And C’s not been well. A sore throat akin to swallowing razor blades has put her in bed for two days, which is very unlike her. Interesting she reckons the over-the-counter codeine/paracetamol mix might have been the thing that knocked her sideways. So watch that.

Anyway, Christmas is fizzling towards us, rather than galloping in our direction. Maybe things will pick up with Mum? Who knows.

The car’s packed. I mean … it’s packed. We always take a lot of stuff skiing, mostly dairy free stuff and other gear that’s more expensive in the Alps. Which is pretty much everything other than alcohol. So we have a car full. And, and this was nice, my

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less than a week to go …

neighbour took me for a drive in his Tesla 3 just now. Wow. If you’ve never been in an electric car, give it a go. After you get over the fact that it takes off without a mumble, and then everything else is worked on a big screen (which plays Netflix when you’re static) it really is an enjoyable and damn quick ride. The standard Tesla 3 goes 0-60 in 5.3 seconds. That’s as quick as I’ve ever been without being airborne.

And the book is now complete. I spent late Friday sorting out the epilogue. There are two twists at the end, neither of which I was expecting. Both of which, I think, really add something to what I hope will be a book which sits easily alongside the other five. No title yet, though.

Next post is on Christmas Day which will be your version of our Christmas circular … the cat’s letter. Some of you may be looking forward to that. I hope so.

Have a fab Christmas. And thanks for bearing with this drivel. Ta-ta!

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coffee before work on Friday

 

Did it … phew

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here’s Cassie!

We were at a birthday party a couple of weekends ago – most of the people there we knew. One of them, a good friend, commented on my novels. He said that as well as my stuff he reads Jack Reacher. Mine, he said with real sincerity, were better than that penned by Lee Child. He amplified. He said that (as I have said this previously, as a fan of the Jack Reacher books), Lee Child writes to a formula, which gives his readers exactly what they want. [A Lee Child book is sold somewhere in the world every 20 seconds; so it’s not a bad formula] Mine are all different. Same genre – but all different, with plot twists and new ideas. Held together, he said, by the main character, Sam Green.

I have to believe Peter – my pal – because, early on (now almost 6 years ago) he told me that Unsuspecting Hero, a book I have subsequently rewritten, wasn’t very good. He’s now a convert.

I mention this because, breathes in, I have just finished draft one of book 6 (no title). I’ve laid down 126,000 words and only have an epilogue (2,500) to go. It has not been easy; and that’s an understatement. This year, with everything else going on, I have really had to push myself to get the words down. And now I’m done, I’m really happy with it. Yes, it needs a lot of work and I think there’s going to be more plot consistency issues than usual, but all of that is a joy. It’s getting the words on the paper in the first place that is the struggle for all authors. Ask any of us.

And this has come about exactly when my book sales have fallen off a cliff. I have no idea why – I never do. And so, notwithstanding Peter’s kind comments, I really feel 2020 is crunch time. I will (I will, I will) market the series as I edit the sixth book in the Spring. And if nothing comes of it, I will not start another until I feel that I’m writing for more than about 500 people.

We’ll see. Anyhow. It’s done (with two final plot twists which you’re going to love).

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spot the parking fine

What else has been happening? Mostly writing. And running. C has a cold – and has been shopping for our trip to Chatel – which has bucket loads of snow (yippee!). I popped down town today to handout a couple of Christmas gifts to an ex-Army homeless person I’ve met. Only to get a parking fine for the privilege. I met up with Elizabeth for coffee – which was fun – and, oh have I told you? I finished book 6.

I’m back with the MoD tomorrow – all day (a last minute request). And at a school in Salisbury on Friday. More work, but all in a good cause.

Hurrah?

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had a walk down the Severn

Getting over it.

OK. (Takes a deep breath.) I’m getting over it. I will hold my nose and give Johnson and the Tories a chance. I vehemently remain a European and hope, beyond hope, that the Labour party can now find someone just left of centre who can hold a candle to whatever you wish to call the new party in power – one nation conservatives they are not. Labour certainly need a strong leader in the dispatch box. How that’s going to work in the next couple of months with Corbyn holding on looks messy.

Oh well. But, you know what? Not, oh well. Not when we’re a decade away from loosing many species of animals; a decade short of who knows what climate calamities. I said on Wednesday, and I’ll say it again, the Green party – or similar – will be hurried into power when we’re putting out the fires in our gardens with the rising sea water around our ankles. And, and I’m guessing most of the people who read this are ‘older’, this may not effect us. Indeed, we might enjoy our swansong with warmer summers in this darkening country – which, by the way, will be the union of England and Wales before 2030 – but our children will never thanks us. And our grandchildren will despise us.

So, my mate Boris. Do what ever you will with the civil service. Build 20 new hospitals, employ tens of thousands of new nurses, put bobbies back on the beat, introduce a new points-based immigration system, give more money to schools, privatise the BBC, give Ofsted more power and get Brexit done. But, whilst you’re at it, champion the planet. Set up a new, cross-party ministry for the climate. Make every decision … every decision, climate change based. You want to reboot the country? Do so. Please. Do what ever you like …

… but lead the world on making this place safe for future generations to live. You owe that to your 5/6 children.

[I have used the photos below to tell you what else we’ve been up to!]

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now almost 110/125k into book six. It’s been a struggle, but you just have to sit down and write. Have thought of 2 fab twists for the end …

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hello! My post-election face. Am getting over it …

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waxing skis for Chatel! Off to mum’s a week tomorrow for Christmas. R&C’s for a couple of days, but hope to be skiing by the 29th!

Vote for me!

We’ve made it. Through the worst election campaign in memory with two of the most unelectable candidates in history. And, if you add in Jo Swinson, that might rise to three. She is the most respectable of them, if a little screechy. However the Lib Dems (I am a natural liberal) lost me when they went for a straight revoke A50. I am dead against

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We I might need a couple of these tonight …

Brexit – it’s fair to say I have never felt more strongly about anything – but I am a democrat. We need a second referendum, and Jo wasn’t having any of that. And I think the Lib Dems have paid for that decision.

If you add Nicola Sturgeon and Caroline Lucas into the mix, I do believe we have a couple of leaders who we can trust. But, alas, the SNP don’t really care about me. And, mark my words, The Green Party will be voted in when it’s too late to do anything about the planet.

So, it’s Johnson or Corbyn. Where do you start? Well, I think everyone’s come to the conclusion that we’re anti-voting. We’re voting to make sure we don’t get one of them. And for me that’s a clear choice.

I was picked on at school and it took me some time to realise that the only way to get through that was to stand up for myself. The Army honed that skill and, at the same time, enshrined in me a severe dislike for anyone who abuses power – at any level. Having worked abroad a bit, you can see that in spades. Mostly men, grabbing control and then bullying swathes of the population to hold onto it (and normally using religion as a banner under which to hide – another story).

Away from conflict, popularist politics has enabled the bully. You can see it in Trump – blatantly. And you can see it in Salvini and Bolsonaro. And you can see it in Johnson. When he’s under pressure. When his bluster fails him. When he realises he can’t get his way – the way he’s always been allowed to get because of innate privilege (which also frustrates me). Bullies don’t like confrontation they can’t control. They pick on softer targets. That’s why Johnson has avoided Channel 4  and Andrew Neil. Because they would have stood up to him.

And Corbyn? Well, he’s not my choice. And some of his background and far-left policies are anathema to me. But … and I have looked closely … I am warming to him as a man. You can say what you like but he has worked tirelessly for the disadvantaged over decades and decades. You might not like what he stands for, but at least you know what he stands for. Yes, none of us know which way he’d vote on Brexit, but I don’t think that’s a bad policy. Post a second referendum – if he’s in charge – he’ll need to try to manage a broken country … it’s called collegiate leadership. Johnson, on the other hand, is not a Brexiteer. His political history shows that. And yet … politically expediency and all that.

Finally. What of the climate? Who can you trust with that? Well, I don’t trust Johnson, in the same way I don’t trust Trump. And I don’t think any of his current team are up to a global challenge. And Corbyn? Well at least we know he cares about the planet.

So, on on this monumental day, what would do for me? A hung parliament, with a labour lead, reined in by moderates. A PR style of government which runs a second referendum and puts climate change at the top of the agenda next to the NHS.

Frankly, anything which doesn’t have Johnson in the title.

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Guildford Cathedral looking a bit spooky …

 

For the record we’ve just got back from Mary’s – it was her birthday and we had a party!