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Amazonian Speed

Amazon get panned everywhere. As a novelist, I have my share of beefs with them, but there are times when they deserve praise.

Given the pure dross put out by all British TV channels (BBC take note, you’re included in that opinion) the missus and I struggle to find something worth watching every night of the week. As consequence, we buy a lot of videos.

I ordered two at 6pm on Wednesday this week. Note that. 6pm Wednesday. It’s less than 36 hours ago.

All up bill was about £18. I don’t pay for delivery, and I don’t accept any of their “free delivery as long as you take a trial of…” whatever they’re trying to foist onto me.

Therefore, I took standard delivery, which is free on orders over £10, and when I came through the checkout page, the estimated delivery date was anywhere from Wednesday August 27th to Friday August 29th.

Yesterday I received another email telling me that I could expect delivery tomorrow, August 23rd, which although it’s great, is also a bit of a bugger because we’ll be out. Oh well, no problem. They can either leave it with a neighbour or leave me a card and I’ll arrange redelivery next week.

And with that, I pushed it all to one side. I have more important matters to deal with.

The postman has just delivered them. Still under 36 hours, and they are here.

This isn’t a one off, either. I’ve had the same level of service before from Amazon. Even when I’ve had complaints, they’ve been dealt with quickly and to my satisfaction.

All I can say is, well done.

Wednesday Writing: Post Novel Depression

It something I suffer from every time I complete a novel and I’m sure it’s a genuine psychological condition, but I don’t know that you could get a sick note for it.

At about five minutes to eight last night, STAC Mystery #12, A Killing in the Family, went off to Maureen Vincent-Northam for editing. Other than a little tidying up, there’s nothing more to be done with it other than send it off to Crooked Cat.

It brings to an end a final month of intense work involving long hours at the keyboard, reduced sleep and tantrums ranging from “For God’s sake don’t disturb me,” aimed at the missus, to “What are you playing at, you bastard?” screamed at the storyline.

Then suddenly, it’s done, it’s on its way with the prospect of only a bit of post-editorial faffing.

And it leaves me with a problem. What to do with all those empty hours?

The backstory in A Killing in the Family began in STAC #11, Death in Distribution, and it will conclude in STAC #13 (working title The Flames of Murder), so the best thing to do is get straight on with the next volume… but I’ve been living with Joe, Sheila and Brenda for last few months, and I’ve had enough of them. I’m sure they’ve had enough of me too. Besides, I’m one of those writers who likes the detailed overview to gel in my mind before I put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.

Outside, the recent short summer has transformed into an early autumn. The car windows are covered in overnight condensation and I need the heating on until mid-morning. This is usually the most fertile time of year for my enthusiastic imagination, so there must be plenty of tales on the hard drive I could go back to… but I can’t drum up any of the missing enthusiasm.

Taking the dog for a good, long walk might kick start a few ideas… but he’s a grumpy, bone idle little sod and not always in the mood for walkies. He’s also a noisy bugger, and some of my neighbours work shifts, so I can’t take him until later in the morning.

This time of year is usually good for UFO sightings, too, so how about that UFO comedy I’ve had planned… but I’ve never been absolutely certain that UFOs and comedy go together.

The same is true of my brilliant lampoon of celebrity status which is half finished. The (yuk) X-Factor is due to have me reaching for the TV’s off switch any time now and it would be the perfect time to put out such a savage satire… but celebrities annoy me in real life, and working on it would only irritate me further.

So how about…

The list of projects is endless, but the problem is intractable. It’s post-novel depression. I’m still emotionally bound to yesterday’s completed project and there’s no cure other than time and patience. Both Maureen and Crooked Cat work very quickly and the only thing I can hope is that when the tale hits the bookstands very soon the readers will be sufficiently involved with it to want more.

Monday Mumbling: I Won’t Turn a Crisis Into A Drama

It’s been a day or two since I last reported on my health, and if I’m suffering, I see no reason you shouldn’t.

Those of you paying attention will know that I fell quite ill last Wednesday, since when I’ve been on an exclusive diet of antibiotics, analgesics and cigarettes. The first clears the infection, the second eases the fever, and the third, aside from keeping my temper under control, helps me cough up all the crap that the tobacco put there in the first place.

My appetites are slowly returning. I’m eating okay, I’m writing again, but the odds on my getting a legover this side of New Year’s Eve still rank it as an outside bet.

On this angle, it’s fair to say that matters took a turn for the worst on Friday when Her Indoors took Joe for a walk on her own.

Joe is a bastardised Jack Russell, with a bit of bulldog in him. He’s the size of a meerkat with the strength of a horse. Pull? He can pull better than I could when I was in me prime.

So she’s crossing the road, with Joe tugging away at his 5-metre lead, when she tripped over the kerb and fell flat, scraped both hands on the tarmac, sprained her wrist, and banged her head on the ground. I wasn’t bothered about the bump on the nut. It’d take lot more than a concrete kerbstone to get through her bone head.

However, while she is now nursing me back to good health, I’m nursing the wounds to her hands and wrist, and it’s confusing. We’re never sure who’s supposed to be doing what to whom or when he/she is supposed to be doing it. A bit like our nightly adventures many, many, MANY moons ago. In the meantime, I’m supposed to stop smoking today.

Is it any wonder the word Flatcap is synonymous with catastrophe?

Crisis Over: I’m Back

Yesterday will go down as one of the worst days of my life. It began as a disaster and went rapidly downhill from there.

I don’t sleep well. There are a number of factors contributing to that, but essentially, I don’t worry too much when I get up feeling tired. I felt tired at half past six yesterday morning. Nothing to worry about.

Then at about half past nine I felt cold. Central heating was running so there was no reason for it. At ten o’clock, I was shivering uncontrollably and I felt sick. I went back to bed. I was sick three times and each time I brought up nothing but bile, my head was spinning and I was freezing cold under two sheets, a duvet and a bathrobe thrown on top for extra insulation.

Her Indoors often complains she can’t cope with my various and mostly self-inflicted health problems, but she coped all right yesterday and got the emergency doctor out.

A pleasant young woman, after running all the usual tests, blood pressure and glucose level (both okay), she had a listen to my chest and declared a massive infection. A week of antibiotics for the infection, analgesics to bring down the fever. She left a prescription and I said I’d pick it up tomorrow (today). Her Indoors had different ideas and went out for it straight away. While she was out, she also spent thirty quid on a new blouse!!!! so it wasn’t quite the philanthropic sacrifice she will no doubt make it appear.

I haven’t slept well overnight, but that’s probably because I spent so much of yesterday sleeping. However, as I got up this morning, I feel 1,000% better. Well enough to delve into my fund of hyperbole and come up with “1,000%” anyway. The fever is gone. I still get occasional sweats but I’m well enough to tackle STAC Mystery #12, A Killing in the Family (I bet you thought I wouldn’t have the balls to throw in a cheap plug).

But this business is a mystery in its own right. I suffer from three or four chest infections a year and I always know when they’re coming on. This time I hadn’t a clue and it must have been in there a week or two to have such a devastating effect.

Just what I need at my time of life: sneaky, subversive chest infections.

Wednesday Writing: Is There a Difference Between Vanity and POD?

I read my fair share of advice blogs/columns. I’m one of those old idiots who believes he knows everything, and spends a lot of time every day learning those things he’s discovered he didn’t know, so he checks out the web advisors. The vast majority are sound as a pound. The advice they give is good, and should be heeded. They know a lot more than I do.

But now and again I come across one who clearly hasn’t a clue what he/she is talking about.

So what brought this particular rant on? It was a comment I read concerning POD publishing, and how everyone should be wary of it or it will end up costing you a fortune. What a lot of tosh. The person concerned obviously doesn’t know the difference between POD and vanity publishing.

POD stands for Print On Demand. In other words the publisher does not hold stocks of books and doesn’t really deal with High Street bookshops, which is just as well because where I live, we don’t have that many left. Instead, a book is printed when a reader demands (i.e. orders) it.

Vanity publishing, on the other hand, has been around almost as long the publishing industry.  It’s where a publisher is happy to take on your book regardless of quality, but subject to you forking out a large sum of money in advance. He gets his three grand, and that’s all he gives a toss about. He will do nothing to help sell your book, but he will expect you to take delivery of hundreds of copies, which you can store in your garage until you decide it’s time for a bonfire.

The terms are not necessarily mutually exclusive. A good number of vanity publishers utilise POD technology on the offchance that you may need to order more copies… presumably when the bonfire is going out.

However, just because a publisher works with POD does not make them a vanity publisher.

Some years ago, I worked with an American imprint, Virtual Tales. An upfront, thoroughly respectable publisher who liked my novel, and took it on. They designed a cover, they appointed an editor, and consulted with me at every stage of the process. And when the book was ready to go, they sent me a complimentary paperback copy.

Virtual Tales did not store books. They utilised POD. And yet, they never charged me a penny.

These days, aside from some self-published titles which no one else is crazy enough to take on, I work exclusively with Crooked Cat Publishing. When they receive my scripts, they pore over my work, making whatever additional edits they feel are necessary, they design a cover, and they consult with me on everything from that cover and those edits, right down to pricing. And when we’re ready to go, they send me a complimentary copy of the paperback.

To date, I’ve published no less than 14 paperback titles (and one exclusive e-book) with Crooked Cat, and the fifteenth, STAC Mystery #12, A Killing in the Family, is due soon. They’ve never charged me one penny.

And yet they utilise POD.

With an ever-increasing amount of business done over the internet, POD is the way forward for the smaller companies. It avoids filling a huge warehouse with thousands and thousands of copies of the books. It’s also kinder to the trees and avoids any number of unsold books being pulped and recycled into toilet rolls.

So there you have it. If you want to criticise the independent publishers, do so, but do your homework first, and if you’re not prepared to do that, at least learn the difference between vanity and POD.

Tracy’s Back

It’s true. She’s Back!

Can’t remember when it was exactly, but I first met Tracy sometime around 2009/10, when my old mate Trevor Belshaw asked me to have a look at this idea he’d had. Not that he just sent it to me, you understand. I’m no more a comedy guru than the bloke next door, and he sent to a number of people. In common with them all, I liked what I read and said he should go for it.

Lo and behold, Tracy’s Hot Mail appeared a couple of years later, the very first book published by Crooked Cat.

I said at the time that Tracy brings Bridget Jones into the 21st century: the diary format laid out as a series of emails to her best friend and unseen confidante, Emma. Email is logical when you think about it. I meanersay, who keeps a proper diary these days?

Well, Trevor has now taken matters a step further with the second in the series making its debut today, and it’s the 100th book published by Crooked Cat. And you can pick up Tracy’s Celebrity Hot Mail from a whole host of e-book and paperback sellers, including Amazon.

If I were forty years younger, Tracy would be the kind of girl I’d cross the street to avoid. Not that there’s anything seriously amiss with her. It’s just that I can get into enough trouble without her help.

She’s feisty, funny, fashionable and her IQ isn’t high enough to get her onto reality crap like TOWIE, which means she blends in perfectly with most of the airheads I meet in my day to day meanderings. And that level of marginal innocence, combined with bouts of pure insanity, backed up by her bog-standard, Royle-ish family and a host of everyday folk on the funny farm, makes for great comedy.

I’m seriously looking forward to reacquainting myself with Spotty Irene, Old Man Tugger, Barry the Brake and Petrol Pauline, Pranger the driving instructor… but then, you know I like name-dropping.

There’s the usual Crooked Cat launch party on Facebook, where I think there may be some freebies, but if Tracy’s dad got them through his iffy mates, you’re assured that they didn’t fall off the back of a lorry. They were probably nicked straight from the manufacturer.

Everyone is welcome over there, but if, like me, you’re not in a party mood, then get yourself over to one of the online suppliers, then settle down for a couple of hours of chucklesome fun.

Monday Mumbling: Suffering for My Art?

I spend most of my life in pain from one problem or another, mainly brought on by years of ignoring medical advice.

Now there’s a novelty: someone with health problems NOT blaming it on other people.

Unusual or not, it’s the truth. If I’d taken better care of myself when I was younger, I wouldn’t have most of the problems I have right now: arthritis, COPD, type 2 diabetes, being the three major culprits. I’m no more sensible now. Look carefully, and you can see strands of tobacco to the right of the myriad pills I have to swallow.

Right now, I have some muscle problems with my back. I’ve been in chronic pain for a fortnight or more , and matters reached a head last week when I had to bite the bullet and talk to my doctor… again. We’re gonna start looking into it this coming week, and this must be the umpteenth week when I’ve decided to “look into it”.

As a novelist, however, there is a plus side to this. I can make my characters suffer the same problems.

I’m a boomer (born between 1946 and 1970) Joe, Sheila and Brenda and most of the STAC gang are boomers. It would be strange if they didn’t suffer the same trouble as me, although, aside from Sylvia Goodson’s diabetes, and Sheila’s gallstones, it’s never been addressed… yet.

So as we moved from Easter into the summer of 2013, I made Joe feel the pinch of too many cigarettes, too many late nights and early mornings, and not enough rest. And in the autumn, he found out the same way I did, by suffering a suspected heart attack.

The difference is, Joe is more intelligent than me. He’ll listen to medical advice (eventually) and he has two people at his side who will make him do as his told. My missus has tried to make me do as I’m told, but it didn’t work.

Not because the missus isn’t forceful enough, but because I’m too stupid to listen.

Wednesday Writing: A guest post from Vanessa Couchman

Pre-launch book publicity: what works?

My guest today is Vanessa Couchman, whose first novel, The House at Zaronza was launched last week and stormed the Amazon. I wanted to know what Vanessa did in advance of publication to create such an immediate impact. Over to Vanessa.

I’ve always disliked the word “networking”. It conjures up visions of captains of industry swapping business cards over lavish lunches. But this word sprang (or crawled, anyway, after a booze-fuelled launch party) to mind when David asked me to write about the pre-launch publicity I did for my novel.

The House at Zaronza was released on 29th July in paperback and e-book formats. By the end of launch day, it had clambered into the top 3,000 in the Kindle rankings and was number 6 in the women’s historical fiction genre.

This is my first novel and my first taste at publicising my own book. I used to work in publishing in the days before Kindles and e-books were a gleam in anyone’s eye but things have changed radically since then. A few years ago, I thought a social medium was a nice cup of tea. I’ve been on a steep learning curve ever since. And they keep coming up with new ones!

I’d like to say that The House of Zaronza’s success in the charts was the result of a carefully-considered marketing strategy. But that would be economical with the truth. I did draw up a marketing plan or, rather, a jumbled list of 80 things I thought I ought to do. Working out which of those should be a priority has not been easy, but here’s what I think did it for me:

    1. I have been priming people about the book’s origins and, later, publication for some time. My blog, Life on La Lune, gets about 7,000 hits a month so it was a no-brainer to use that as a platform. However, it’s about French life rather than writing, so I had to be careful not to spam readers and drive them away. My blog is linked to Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.
  1. Being of a certain age with several careers behind me, I’ve got a lot of contacts, many of them with literary interests. This is where the networking comes in. I’ve discovered the power of email in drumming up interest for other activities. A week before publication, I emailed everyone I know with info about the book, but didn’t say, “Please buy it.” Sales of the paperback spiked the next day at #4,000 in the Amazon overall rankings – and that was pre-publication.
  1. In the 10 days before publication, I tweeted a daily quote from the book with the link to Amazon to ca. 550 followers. I also tweeted links to relevant articles by other people. Retweets and mentions from Twitter friends helped, too.
  1. Also coming up to publication, I published extracts from the book on Facebook. Having not only my personal page but also the Crooked Cat Readers page increased the reach.

What didn’t work?

I set up a Facebook page for the novel. It got a lot of likes in the first few days but declined sharply after that. Trying to drive people to it was time-consuming but unproductive. It became confusing posting to it as well as my own page and the Crooked Cat one.

One thing I am sure about: you can’t just sit back after publication and expect the book to sell itself. The three months after release are probably critical to its success. And people have to like it, too.



Vanessa Couchman is passionate about French and Corsican history, from which she derives the inspiration for much of her fiction. She has lived in France since 1997, where she runs a copywriting business and also writes magazine articles. Her short stories have won and been placed in creative writing competitions. The House at Zaronza is her debut novel.



The House at Zaronza

Set in early 20th-century Corsica and at the Western Front in World War I, The House at Zaronza tells the story of Maria Orsini, the daughter of a bourgeois family. She and the village schoolmaster carry on a secret romance, but Maria’s family has other ideas for her future. She becomes a volunteer nurse during World War I and the novel follows her fortunes through the war and beyond.

Find Vanessa at:

Blog: Life on La Lune –

Writing site:

Amazon author page: and

Twitter: @Vanessainfrance

Facebook: vanessa.couchman.3


You can find The House at Zaronza at:


Monday Mumbling (Part 2): Went the Day Well

The appointments were speedily and efficiently dealt with but by twelve noon, having had nothing to eat or drink but water since midnight, I was beginning to feel the effects, as the following selfie demonstrates.



And the upshot of it all?

Breathing: I am still breathing, but the output is pure poison, as is most of the input thanks to my hand-rolling tobacco.

Blood sugar: haven’t a clue and won’t have until tomorrow, but the chances are it’ll be normal for a Type 2 diabetic.

Aortic Aneurysm: dunno. She couldn’t do the scan because the images were hazy again. What they fondly imagined was gas last time, was there again, but it wasn’t gas. My best guess is it’s my internal plumbing which was re-arranged twenty years ago to repair other problems.

Retinopathy: the interior of my eye looked like the planet Mars. Apparently this is normal, but I don’t know where that little vehicle marked NASA came from.

Overall judgement: sorry, but I’ll be back tomorrow.

After discussions with a good friend, Carol Hedges, I looked into the comment spam set up on WordPress, and I am now able to allow comments again. Please feel free to speak your mind. Cheques payable to…


Monday Mumbling: Organised? Me?

We all know that when it comes to organisation, I’m the world’s best… not.

For most people, when they consider my organisational abilities, the words ‘piss up’ and ‘brewery’ spring instantly to mind. I admit it. If I ever got organised, I’d probably rule the world, so you should be glad I’m a one-man disaster area.

Well, this time I’ve excelled myself.

I have to be at the doc’s this at 10:30 this morning for my annual diabetic check-up and bloods. It’s a fasting test. After that, at 11:50, I shuffle along the corridor for an ultrasound scan looking for potential aortic aneurysms. I went once before, but the poor woman couldn’t see anything for gas. I offered to fart, but she said it wouldn’t work, so we rearranged the test for today, and I’m ordered to fast for it.

Then came the letter from our local PCT arranging my annual diabetic retinopathy scan. They have a habit of sending me all over Manchester for these tests, and I can’t drive because the drops they put in my eye anaesthetises the pupils, which means I’m dazzled when I come out.

So last year, I put my foot down and so, “No way. You fix it up at my doctor’s surgery.” And they did. Come this year, they forgot my irritability and wanted to send me to the dark side of the moon, or Rochdale as we know it. I rang again and read them the riot act, after which they re-arranged it for the medical centre where I’m registered. They suggested “August 4th?” and I said, okay, having completely forgotten about the other two appointments.

So now, I’ve had nothing to eat or drink since before midnight, and those two stale loaves and that dead rat will be looking decidedly delicious by twelve noon. Moreover, I can’t eat anything until sometime after noon when the aortic oojah has been dealt with, and then I have to kill a couple of hours in town before turning back up at the medical centre for the retinopathy. And I can’t take the car because I won’t be able to drive home.

I’ll be at the medical centre so long, they’ll probably consult me on the redecoration, and by lunchtime, I’m sure I’ll have wasted away to shadow of my former self.

Will someone please tell me, how do you arrange a piss up in a brewery?