The Little Willowford Mission (6)

Report Six

My dearest Commander, I can barely contain my excitement. I have news that I am confident will transport you to heights of great happiness. But, before I begin, I must thank you for your reply to my last report and assure you that I will, in future, restrict any detailed medical observations to the new reporting system you have devised for that purpose. I was most forlorn to hear about your own bout of queasiness and I hope that this report finds you entirely recovered.

And so to my news. Commander, I have made a friend. Please do not be alarmed, I have not, like Doctor Frankenstein in the much-loved book from the required reading list, constructed a body from disparate parts and shocked it into life. I am fully aware that our own scientists discounted this option many hundreds of cycles ago and I have no evidence that it has ever been repeated successfully here. No, my friend is a perfectly normal human female of a similar age to my body. I believe she will be most useful to our mission.

The woman is known as Pam. It is likely that she has other names, but I have not yet been able to discover them. She lives in a dwelling very close to my own, in fact there is but one other dwelling between us. Commander, I must be entirely truthful. The interaction that led to the formation of this relationship was not at my instigation, neither was it planned. I would prefer that it were not so, that it was the successful culmination of a plan, but it seems I must be content with fortuitous events.

Just two days ago, I was inspecting the area of land at the rear of the dwelling. This is known as a garden and I will refer to it in that way throughout this report. I was cognisant of your direction to comply at all times with the written instructions in the document named Tenancy Agreement and you will remember that I am required ‘to keep the patio areas, paths, garden areas, lawns, flower beds, shrubs or bushes and borders as tidy, weed free and in seasonal order as at the start of the tenancy’. Despite several hours’ research, I was unable to identify many of those elements that require my attention. I recognised grass and a path constructed of squares of what I believe to be stone or concrete, but I could find no sign of plants, flower beds, shrubs or bushes.

I was in danger of falling into a state of depression when I heard a voice.

‘Lovely day!’

I looked in the direction from which the voice had originated and saw a woman standing in a similar position to myself, outside her own dwelling. There is little in the way of fencing between our respective gardens and I could see that hers was quite the opposite of mine, containing many different kinds of plants. I decided to respond. Surely, it would have been most ill-mannered to ignore her greeting.

‘Yes it is, indeed, a very pleasant day,’ said I.

I have discovered through many hours of observation, that human weather-related greetings do not require the recipient to offer an honest opinion concerning the meteorological conditions at that time. Indeed, I believe it would be considered inappropriate to challenge the instigator’s personal assessment. The following provides a supporting example: whilst waiting at the transport stop following my visit to the ASDA, I observed a young man wearing only a thin upper garment approach a much older man who was wearing both a hat and a coat. They clearly had an existing relationship as they greeted each other with smiles.

‘Hello, Callum, bit chilly today, ain’t it?’ said the older man.

‘Too right, Harry,’ was the reply, whereupon the younger man, who was clearly not at all chilly, patted his friend upon the shoulder and walked away at some speed.

Commander, I digress. Fascinating although these insights into human behaviour are, I must continue with my account of how I was successful in continuing an interaction which would normally have terminated at that point. I walked towards the fence and made exaggerated head movements to indicate that I was looking at her garden.

‘I am in great admiration of your garden,’ I called.

‘Oh, thanks,’ was her reply, ‘but it’s mostly the old man’s work. I just get to enjoy it.’

I did not know the identity of this old man and wondered if he could be persuaded to transform my own garden so that it resembled hers and thus met the conditions of the Tenancy Agreement. I was about to ask her how I might contact him, when she spoke again.

‘Come and have a look if you like.’

I replied in the affirmative and, Commander, there I was, sitting at a small table and drinking a nice cup of tea within minutes of our first interaction. I hope you will be impressed. After that, Pam showed me the garden and pointed out so many different plants and shrubs that I had no chance of remembering them all. She also showed me a water feature and many models of small animals, some manufactured from plastic and some from stone. Fortunately, these do not appear in the Tenancy Agreement so I do not feel obliged to acquire anything similar.

I was most content in Pam’s garden and was delighted to accept her offer of a second cup of tea. That was when the conversation turned away from the garden and I was shocked to find that Pam was happy to divulge many details of her life to me, despite having only known me for approximately one hour. She showed me a large number of pictures of children she referred to as ‘grandkids’ and provided me with information about their skills and talents which, I was glad to tell her, were so numerous that the said children must be considered veritable prodigies. I did not have the opportunity to question her about the old man, as her husband arrived home shortly after we had finished our cups of tea, and made enquiries about his forthcoming dinner.

Sadly, I have not yet been able to identify any information that may be useful to our mission, but I am confident that Pam will prove to be a most remarkable asset as our relationship develops. I hope, dear Commander, that you will agree this has been a most productive week.

Your most obedient servant,

Jane Brown (Mrs)


The Little Willowford Mission (5)

Report Five

Cherished Commander, the time that has passed since my last report has allowed little opportunity for observations. Subsequent research has indicated that the body acquired an infection known as a cold, probably when travelling on the bus. This word is only partially descriptive of the symptoms, which included a raised body temperature for one day.

Commander, I have to confess that I was sorely tempted to flout your instructions and abandon the body for a short time. The progress of this infection was most unpleasant. In addition to the shivering, the raised temperature and the pain associated with swallowing, copious quantities of slimy discharge exited the body via the nose for several days and I experienced sneezing, a most alarming symptom over which the body has no control.

Naturally, I have taken comprehensive notes concerning the course of this infection and these will provide very useful data. I will send them presently. Although I have found it hard to rejoice in the experience, I am confident that you will gain great pleasure from my report, in particular relating to my detailed description of the evolution of the discharge, from watery and colourless to glutinous and green.

As I have left the dwelling hardly at all this week, this is a perfect opportunity to report on my visit to the ASDA last week. I am gratified to inform you that my memory of the event is almost as clear as it was the following day, such an impression it made upon me.

Having discovered the location of the store – this too was a challenge – I remained outside for some minutes, observing the population. It soon became clear that there was a very wide range of socially acceptable behaviour associated with the procurement of items from this place. Some people took wheeled metal trolleys in with them, whilst others entered without. People entered alone, with others or in larger groups. I could detect no discernible dress code and observed both men and women with areas of exposed flesh. The reasons for this were unclear, but it seems unlikely that they were displays associated with attracting a mate as I believe can be the case. One woman wore shoes made of fur that I previously thought were associated with nightwear so I have adjusted my records to reflect that.

I decided to enter without the encumbrance of a wheeled trolley, but this proved to be a misguided decision. The green plastic basket I chose became quite excessively laden and I found it very difficult to carry. Commander, you may ask how this could be. Surely I had determined in advance the products I intended to purchase and judged my capacity to transport them? That is true, but I found I soon became ensnared by the ASDA and placed involuntarily into my basket, a large number of items I had not planned to purchase.

How could this be? By any measure I am a highly sentient being, far superior in intelligence and evolutionary design to the humans for whom the ASDA is designed, and yet I was not able to function normally within its walls. There are, I believe, several reasons for this, although I have yet to discover if they are present by accident or design.

  1. The layout of the ASDA is such that it is impossible to buy a small number of items without passing many thousands of others. There appears to be no logical reason for the placement of items in relation to each other.
  2. The ASDA appears to function also as a social setting for customers to stand with others for long periods discussing issues relating to their families. Their trolleys are often ignored, thus slowing progress around the store. In addition, small children run, untethered, between the high shelves, causing further confusion.
  3. The lighting in the ASDA is bright and over-stimulating, inhibiting judgement when selecting items.
  4. The acoustics of the ASDA are such that there is a continuous high level of background noise including music, punctuated by incomprehensible announcements over a loud-speaker system. This makes customers anxious to leave, whereupon they forget items and have to return to areas they have already visited, thus exposing themselves to further temptation.
  5. Odours relating to the baking of bread and sweet confectionary pervade the store, despite the fact that these items are produced at the rear. This stimulates the body into demanding such items.

Commander, you will be shocked to hear that my progress around the ASDA, from the time I entered its precincts to the moment when the system for payment wished me farewell, was 2 hours, 17 minutes and 30 seconds. As I stepped into the daylight, burdened with two heavy sacks, the body began to feel very unusual and I had to take it to a nearby seat to rest.

Clearly, I will be obliged to return. The items I carried back to the dwelling bear little resemblance to those I had intended to buy. In addition, I found myself unable to operate the payment system and was forced to stand by while a young human male not only scanned my items but also removed the currency from my wallet, a task I would have been more than capable of carrying out myself. He touched the body on the arm on three occasions, with no obvious reason, and referred to me as his love more times than I could count. I found it impossible to challenge this assertion although it was so obviously false. I assume this was the result of the trauma I had experienced.  

I will be better prepared on the next occasion, Commander, and will be able to produce a much more comprehensive report. However, I believe I may tarry a while before my next excursion to the ASDA. The body requires a significant period of recovery before another attempt is made.

Your faithful and obedient officer,

Jane Brown (Mrs)


The Little Willowford Mission (4)

Report Four

Commander, you cannot imagine my relief when I digested your most contemporary communication. You are truly the most generous and forgiving superior I could wish for. Now I must ensure I am worthy of your trust and support.

Much has occurred in the time since my last report. I have not yet returned to the inn, as the body seems to have some form of integral memory of the last occasion, impossible although that seems. But, as you know, there are many diverse forms of human social interaction that I am required to experience. There is plenty of time available for another trip to the inn.

I was forced to remain within the dwelling for a further two days, as the body was unable to ingest very much solid sustenance and therefore functioned poorly, becoming weak and unresponsive after short periods of exercise. I spent this time researching diet and the effects of Chardonnay and I am confident that this information will be most useful.

On the fourth day, I carried out an inventory of the remaining food in the dwelling, and discovered that it was incompatible with the elements of a healthy diet. Therefore, I would have to buy replacements. There is a shop in the village, but it is small and I deduced that it would be unlikely to stock the range of ingredients I had identified. That is why I decided to visit the larger settlement nearby, and to do this I would need to travel in a motorised vehicle.

Research showed two possible methods of achieving this. I could request a taxi or catch a bus. Once I had dispelled the confusion occasioned by the inaccurate language employed in that phrase, I decided to take the latter option. Catching a bus involves simply standing by one of the posts I mentioned in my second report and raising one hand as it approaches. It is a significantly less dangerous and unpredictable process than the words imply.

The bus was a large vehicle with many seats arranged mostly in pairs either side of a corridor. The doors opened and I entered to find myself faced with the driver, who was encased in a transparent capsule with a small space for the exchange of money. The driver’s facial expression led me to believe he was not happy in his work and I wondered if the capsule contributed to a feeling of isolation from his fellow humans. However, I did not question him on this issue.

‘Where to?’ said he, and the economy of his words implied that this was not an auspicious time for the exchange of social niceties. I replied as politely as I could, expressing my wish that he would convey me to the nearest town without delay, but I fear I may have misjudged my tone or otherwise caused dismay. His response to me was surly and I felt obliged to provide him with the money he demanded without delay.

The bus moved forward before I managed to sit down, but I am pleased to report that the body sustained no injury. Once seated, I observed my fellow passengers and concluded that most of them had bodies of a similar age and condition to my own. There were slightly more females than males and several of these sat beside colourful wheeled trolleys that protruded into the corridor thus inhibiting the access of new passengers. I concluded that these passengers must have a higher social standing, as they did not feel obliged to move their trolleys to make way for others. Unfortunately, despite close observation, I could detect nothing to indicate the reason for such a social differential.

As the journey progressed, it became clear that the bus also provided a venue for some form of social event. Many of the passengers knew each other’s names and called out merrily to new arrivals as they found a seat. There was evidence also of some form of password system, involving the following exchange:

Existing passenger: Oh, hello (eg) Bill, how are you?

New passenger: Ah, you know. Much the same. Mustn’t grumble.

Some passengers were not greeted in this way and so did not reply with the requisite response. I concluded that these were not members of the group – as indeed I was not – and therefore were not included in the subsequent exchanges that continued throughout the journey. I could hear these only partially, especially as the man who eventually sat beside me had a very loud voice and also emitted explosive exhalations at intervals throughout the journey. These, I discovered, are known as sneezes.

Nevertheless, I could detect that most of the exchanges seemed to concern the health, or otherwise, of various third parties and the medical procedures they had experienced recently. I came to the conclusion that the participating passengers were somehow involved in the health system, but I am aware that there are serious flaws to this hypothesis and that it will need to be tested further.

As the bus entered an area with many buildings, it stopped and most of the passengers stood to leave. I noticed that the wheeled trolleys seemed to provide those who held them with preferential rights when leaving the bus so I waited until the corridor was empty before disembarking. I was careful of breaking any further unseen social rules.

Commander, you cannot imagine the many difficulties I encountered before I found my way to my destination, a large building for the buying and selling of food and other goods. It is called the ASDA Superstore and my experiences would take far too many words to include in this report. I am mindful of your directive to keep my reports brief and relevant to my mission. Therefore, I will save this information for another report and say only that I was substantially unprepared for the nature of this ASDA. It will take many hours of analysis to determine why humans would create an environment that includes such horrendous barriers to the procurement of the very essentials for continued health and well-being it is intended to provide.


The Little Willowford Mission (3)

Report Three

Much idolised commander, a thousand abject apologies for the late delivery of this report. I can only imagine what anxious deliberations must have been assailing you. However, I can reassure you that both the body and I are safe and well, although this was not the case yesterday and my report will explain how that came to be.

Several days passed before I left the dwelling for the second time. There was still plenty of material with which to sustain the body, so I set up an observation station at the upstairs front window. I determined that it would be judicious to avoid any further risky interactions with vehicles until I had gained a better understanding of their operation.

Unfortunately, I learned nothing that could have helped avoid the near collision on my first outing. Most of the vehicles I observed drove on the left side of the road at moderate speed. I concluded, therefore, that my narrow escape was a random event with no particular significance and that it was safe to venture out again.

By the time I had come to this conclusion, it was much later in the day than before, but I was cognisant of the requirements of my mission. My report would be a sparse and negligent creature if I languished in the dwelling for yet another day. I added a further layer of garments and left the dwelling once again, this time turning left.

I found the village to be very dull. The windows of some of the dwellings I passed were lit, as the light was fading, but I passed no-one as I progressed further, seeking communication. I turned left then right, a sequence that could be easily reversed thus avoiding the possibility of losing my way. I was about to retrace my steps when I heard voices, so I continued and was rewarded almost immediately.

What an interesting sight to behold! Three men stood on the steps of a large building with many illuminated windows. Clouds of smoke billowed around them, and at first I feared for their safety, assuming the building to be on fire. Then, fortunately before I was able to raise the alarm, I perceived that I was in fact witnessing the social custom of smoking. I had learned about this but not yet observed it, so I paused to gather information until this drew unwanted attention to me and I was forced to abandon my task. Luckily, the men were amused rather than discontented or aroused at this interaction, as evidenced by the laughter and cheerful greetings that followed me as I walked away briskly.

The next building was similarly illuminated and a large sign read THE WILLOWFORD ARMS. Although it seemed unlikely that the village would have two inns beside each other, I decided to enter. As a customer, I would be in a superior position to observe, although I resolved not to draw further attention to myself by taking notes. Commander, I am more repentant than you can imagine, to report that my memory of the events that followed is substantially impaired. However, I will record what I can:

On entering the building, I found it to be most attractively appointed, with hundreds of tiny lights twinkling at every point. I observed a good many tables with associated seating arranged alongside the outer walls, and the centre of the room was formed of a circular brick barrier, topped with polished wood. A multitude of bottles were arranged on and behind the barrier and there were a number of tall, circular seats beside it. Two of these were occupied by a man and a woman, who turned to look at me as I entered. Another man stood behind the barrier and he, too, studied me closely. This caused me some discomfiture and I found myself at such a loss to know how to respond, that I had almost turned to leave when he spoke.

‘Can I help you, love?’ said he.

This was most confusing. Yes, of course there would be ways in which he could help me. Almost certainly he would have access to information it would take me many weeks of observation to gather myself, but it would be far too perilous to trust him. And why would he refer to me in that intimate way after such a brief acquaintance? I have read that some romantic engagements occur most expeditiously in humans, but this seemed extreme.  Commander, you will be relieved to hear that I did not fall into his trap, if indeed that is what it was. I was still debating internally how to reply without giving offence, when he spoke again.

‘Can I get you anything?’

Knowing that the function of an inn is to provide sustenance and entertainment to the population, I grasped this opportunity.

‘Sir, I am excessively obliged,’ I replied. ‘I would indeed welcome a drink.’

I will not record the conversation that followed. It would be difficult to recall all of it, as the man and woman on the high seats joined in at this point, debating the suitability of a range of beverages. They were very friendly, as shown by the frequency with which they smiled and laughed when I spoke. Eventually they decided upon a nice glass of Chardonnay, which was presented to me with a request for money, with which I complied easily, having gained a high score in the currency module.

I have to report that the body responded very favourably to the glass of Chardonnay. Almost immediately there were signs of relaxation. The cardiac system had been over-stimulated on entering the building, but the pulse reduced quite quickly. I also noted a reduction in the sensation of separation I have felt since taking charge of this body, and that enabled me to participate easily in a short conversation with the man and woman, who insisted I sit beside them.

I was delighted at this turn of events. Maybe my mission would be shorter than anticipated. If the population were this amenable to communication with a total stranger, surely I could be home in two or three cycles, rather than the five or six planned. This, Commander, was my reasoning as I paid for a second glass of Chardonnay – a large one is better value I was assured. I also paid for drinks for the man and woman to avoid them leaving as they had discussed, having forgotten to bring much currency with them.

It is with great regret that I have to end my report here. The body started to malfunction before I had completed drinking the second – or it may have been the third – nice glass of Chardonnay. It was unable to walk in a satisfactory manner when I took it to the toilet, and speech became challenging. I left the inn expeditiously, despite the protestations of my new friends, and managed to find my way back to the dwelling before a good deal of the Chardonnay was ejected in a violent and unpleasant manner.

Commander, I beg you to forgive me, but it was impossible to write this report yesterday. If I did not know it to be a preposterous notion, I would have believed the body was punishing me for poisoning it the day before. I could not have imagined such a plethora of symptoms. Pain in the head, a dry mouth, a sensation that informed me the stomach would eject anything offered to it. I was forced to remain horizontal in a darkened room for more than twelve hours and wait until the surroundings ceased to revolve.

Nonetheless, the body is almost recovered now. This is good news. I will give it only small quantities of Chardonnay in future, but I have discovered that the inn is a good place to initiate conversations. I hope you will accept this as an indication of future success and spend only a short period considering my failures.

Your most faithful foot soldier,

Jane Brown (Mrs)


The Little Willowford Mission (2)

Report Two

Treasured commander, I am sincerely obliged to receive your prompt communication. I completely understand and accept your explanation concerning the body you have chosen for me. I must admit, though, that I found your reasons to be strange at first. How could it help our mission for your chosen officer to be invisible? How could I interact with the local population to discover the intricate details of their lives if they could not see me?

After many hours of unspirited introspection, I decided it was time to leave the dwelling and venture out into this strange world. I would put to the test this peculiar notation. I would walk in the village and take careful observations about how, or indeed if, the population responded to me. I carried out this experiment the very next day.

Here are my results:

Time: 08.25am local time.

Interaction I: Turning right out of my dwelling, I observed a small group of humans who I judged to be old children. They wore similar black and white garments and had sacks on their backs. They stood beside a post which I recognised from my familiarisation materials to be a transport halt. As I approached, two of them moved slightly to allow me to pass but none of them looked up from their screens.

This was confusing. I assume that at least two of the children saw me, as they moved to one side, yet there was no social intercourse between us.

Interaction 2: A little further down the same road, I approached a male walking beside an animal I know to be a dog. They were tethered together. He nodded his head in my direction and mumbled a word that sounded like ‘morn.’ On reflection, I believe this to be an abbreviation of the common greeting ‘Good Morning.’

By the time I had registered this, it was too late to respond as neither of us ceased walking. I remain confused about how or whether I should have replied to him but I am wracked with regret in case he found me ill-mannered.

Interaction 3: I was debating internally these strange interactions when it became apparent that the road I was walking on terminated a little further on. However, I observed a small road leading off to the right, beside a large construction I believe to be a place of worship, so I crossed the road in order to explore further. A large, black vehicle approached me at great speed, narrowly avoiding colliding with me. I stepped back into the sharp foliage and the vehicle drove away. The driver was another male and he shouted, ‘stupid fucking old woman’ out of the window as he left.

Imagine, commander, if the vehicle had hit me. The body would have been damaged, beyond doubt. The whole mission would have been at risk and possibly terminated. Strange sensations flooded it, and it shook uncontrollably until I managed to return it to the dwelling and lie down. It took a great effort to control both the breathing and the cardiac system and I can only hope it has not caused any lasting damage.

It was only after many more hours that I was able to deliberate effectively on these issues. What had I discovered? Could I have been invisible when the vehicle nearly put a precocious end to our mission? But then the driver had shouted an angry and disreputable sentence at me, including the words ‘old woman,’ so he must have seen me at that point.

I decided to revisit some of my training and there, in the module on language, I found the illumination. Commander, I flagellated myself. How remiss of me to forget the tendency of this race to use language in such a dishevelled manner. When they say ‘women become invisible when they reach sixty,’ they do not mean that they disappear from view. No, it seems that they can be seen, indeed they are seen by others such as their families and friends and people who serve them in shops. The strange sentence attempts to comply that females of this age tend to blend into the background. They are not noticed, especially it seems, by males.

After I had reached the state of bliss occasioned by understanding, I realised that you were correct, my commander, as of course you are on every occasion. I will gladly accept the malfunctions of this body if, indeed, it will help our mission. I also accept, squeamishly, the need to communicate in their language.

Clearly this is an early stage of the mission and there is much still to be learned. However, I am relieved that the population appear to be able to see me tolerably well and I look forward to many more interactions with them.

Yours most sincerely,

Jane Brown (Mrs)


The Little Willowford Mission (1)

Report One

Most veneered commander, my communication is two days earlier than planned but I must inform you that my mission is not progressing as we had expected. I will explain the details and then I am sure you will understand and take steps to rectify the situation.

The most serious problem is that the body you have sourced for me is defective. My training had informed me of the need to supply it with a variety of plant and animal based material, but this does not progress in an orderly fashion through the digestive tract as stated in the manual. There are times when the process is quite unpleasant and involves what I have identified as pain. There is intermittent production of noxious gases which must surely indicate a fault.

Also, the joints do not operate correctly. Those in the legs produce pain when first operated and create audible clicks and other sounds indicative of malfunction. Trial and error has shown me that moving around reduces these problems, but I am concerned about a catatonic failure at some point.

There are several other problems with this body. I will not trouble you with most of them now, apart from the issue with the eyes. I was aware, of course, of the possible need to wear magnifying equipment to rectify what is a very common design fault in this species. However, I was not aware of how complicated this would be. The spectacles do indeed make it possible to gain a clear image of text etc close up, but they reduce the effectiveness of the eyes for images further away. This means I have to wear the spectacles only intermittently and it is diffident to remember where I have put them. There is no apparent system for the management of hardware at all.

The second problem relates to the collation of information and the reporting system you have devised. It is extensively diffident for me to produce reports in the native language. It is a most cumbersome and illogical system of communication and it would save me much time if I could use our own, superior, system instead. There are many words that sound the same but have two or more diffident meanings. There are many redundant words with the same meaning. I am forced to spend hours researching this, even with my advanced qualifications.

Commander, I am very sorry to send such a sorrowful communication so early in my mission, but I beg that you will source me a replacement body in full functioning order as soon as possible. I have not yet left the dwelling so the population will not be aware. If you could also release me from the directive to communicate in the native language I would be excessively euphoric.

Your faithful serf,

Jean Brown (Mrs)

(Mission name)


The problem with genre

I have a problem with genre. In fact, I have more than one problem. Firstly, I write as the fancy takes me and my novels are all quite different. This suits me, as it means I love every minute I spend writing. I am never under pressure to write in a particular way, or to any timetable.

However, it means that it is more difficult for me to develop a group of readers who know what to expect and buy my books because they enjoyed the one before. Readers tend to stick to a limited number of genres, and somebody who enjoyed The Butterfly Effect because it is a psychological thriller, may not be interested in fantasy.

It also means it is difficult for me to develop any kind of brand identity. Book covers are hard enough for independent authors on a limited budget, but even more difficult when they are in different genres. Readers look at book covers for some idea of the content. Unfortunately, my limited design skills are totally inadequate when it comes to giving them that extra something that tells them it is a book by me.

My second problem with genre is that my books don’t always confine themselves to one. For example, Deceiving Ellie starts as a psychological thriller but ends in fantasy – or does it? It depends on how you interpret the ending. The Music of the Spheres is both comedy and fantasy. This isn’t a problem in itself, but Amazon’s categories don’t always lend themselves to accurate definition of such books and some readers don’t appreciate genre cross-over.

How much more simple it would be if I just chose a genre and stuck to it. Why don’t I do that? Why don’t I write a series? Everyone would know what to expect and I could design appropriate book covers that looked similar to each other.

Well, the answer is, I don’t want to. If I did, writing would become a job rather than a joy. There’s only one letter difference, but it’s too much for me.


Snippets of real life

I suppose everyone uses real life in their writing. If you had never done anything, never experienced anything, it would be hard to find anything to write about. However, in the novels I have published so far, this has been largely unconscious. People have asked me if my characters are based on various family members or common acquaintances, but I have always explained that they are not intended to be representations of anybody. They may have characteristics of people I know, but they are individuals in their own right. It is the same with settings. The campus in ‘Deceiving Ellie’ is based loosely on Warwick University as that is where I took my degree, but I doubt anyone would recognise it. I added features when I needed them and made up the bits I couldn’t remember.

This time it is different. My new novel will be published in October, and it is based on something that happened to me when I was 18 and working in London. It was a small event and had no lasting impact on my life, but it could have, and that is what I have explored. What would have happened if I hadn’t been quite sensible and put the phone down when I was contacted by a man who had seen me on the train each morning and gone to a lot of trouble to find out where I worked?

It doesn’t end there, either. My mother-in-law was an amazing woman who died of Alzheimer’s in 2001. She had driven ambulances for the Red Cross in countries all over the world during the Second World War and she was strong and independent. She was a feminist without even realising it. Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease and it was so sad to see her robbed of her memory and her independence in the years leading up to her death. So she is in my book too. I have used the experience to inform what happens to Judy, one of the main characters, and she also appears as another strong woman afflicted by the disease. I am confident that she would not mind me using her in this way.

So is this new novel autobiographical? That sounds like a silly question, given that there are big chunks of my past woven into it, but the answer is still ‘no.’ I am not Judy. She is the same age as me and she she shares a lot of my past, but she is a different person. She has children roughly the same age as my children, but I have not lifted them and dropped them into these events. I have used aspects of my life as a template, I suppose, but each of the characters is as new as those in my other novels. The risk is that my family will now spend hours trying to work out if they are in the book and thus what I think of them, but that is a risk I will have to take!

Being Indie

‘I really enjoyed your book; couldn’t put it down! Why don’t you send it off to a publisher?”  This is a question I am often asked, and I usually say something about not wanting to sit around for six months or so waiting for a two-line letter of rejection. Certainly I have been there and got a metaphorical cupboard of T-shirts to show for it.

Back in the late 90’s, when I wrote the first draft of ‘The Music of the Spheres,’ there was no Amazon to accept my manuscript without question but I wanted to be published. I always have, at least for as long as I can remember, so I started the tedious process of writing covering letters and sending them off with my synopsis and sample chapters. Even the letters were an art form in themselves, as they had to strike just the right balance of confidence and humility, avoid sounding either too dull or too quirky together with a myriad of other considerations I can’t even remember. The whole thing took hours and then, months later, the brown envelope, containing everything I had sent, would arrive back on my doormat.

More often than not, there was no evidence of anyone having read the sample chapters. Sometimes, even the synopsis looked untouched. After maybe nine or ten attempts the manuscript went into a drawer, to stay there until I started working part time, nearly fifteen years later.

There are other good reasons to self-publish. I have full control over my novels. I get a royalty percentage that traditionally published authors would die for. I can write as much or as little as I like in any genre I choose and my deadlines are all self-imposed. So no, I won’t be pursuing any publishers and begging them to to read my novels. I’m quite happy as I am, but what if a publisher approached me? What if one of my novels took off and became noticed? Would I jump at the chance to become traditionally published or would it be ‘thanks but no thanks?’ The answer is that I honestly don’t know and, in all probability, it’s not a decision I will ever have to make.

The Waiting Game

Non-writer friends often express surprise when they find out I have published a novel. ‘Oh, that must be so exciting,’ is the most common remark, but although there is some truth in that, there are a lot of other emotions involved.

To begin with, there is the self-doubt. As I finish a novel I am often very pleased with it and think it is the best one so far, but as publication approaches, this is usually replaced by very different feelings. Is it really any good? Should I work on this character or that aspect of the plot? Is it all a load of rubbish? At this point, I have to take myself in hand and listen to wiser voices, or the novel would never be published at all and, so far, I have managed to do that.

Then there is publication day. Yes, there is excitement, but there is something else that I can only describe as advance disappointment. It will probably sell a few copies, but I know there will be no zeros on my sales figures. I know the chances of selling beyond my friends, family and colleagues on the extremely supportive Kindle Users Forum are very small. I know that I will be very lucky if this book creeps into the top 30,000 books in the Amazon charts and even more lucky if it stays there for any length of time. I can’t help it, I know it’s silly, but I still want that best seller even though I know it’s never going to happen!

So why do I keep doing it? Why do I keep publishing novels that a tiny proportion of potential readers will even hear about let alone read? Well, the answer lies in my friends’ perceptive comments after all. It is hugely exciting to get even a few sales. It fills me with delight when I get a positive review. It is amazing when someone tells me they read my book and couldn’t put it down.

That’s why I will continue to hope for that day when sales really take off. I will write another novel and another one after that, for as long as I have the energy and brain-power to do so. I will play the waiting game because I can’t really imagine a life without the highs and lows it brings and because the highs outweigh the lows, every time.